Toronto’s patio season under threat this summer as costs increase for CafeTO program

One thing fabulous about Toronto are those wonderful sunny, warm days where we can all chill out and unwind at one of the hundreds of outside patios. Patio Season is something we’ve all been waiting for all Winter long, after being cramped up inside. Thank goodness for Toronto’s CaféTO program which allows restaurants and bars across the city to make use of sidewalk and curb lane spaces to create even more outside patio seating spaces. What’s not to love about that!

The CaféTO program came about in 2020 during the pandemic, where it was almost impossible to accommodate customers inside restaurants and bars due to the strict social distancing COVID restrictions. The program’s aim was to assist city bars and restaurants create more safe outside space for customers to eat and drink, which in turn would help business owners claim back lost revenue. Interested businesses had to apply to the program and were eligible to claim back 50% expenses accrued in the creation of their temporary outside structures.

Naturally the program has been a growing success since it began, with 1327 establishments taking part in 2022, a rise of 526 since in 2020. The City has been committed to the program too, with over $20 million funds being provided since 2020. Both Torontonians and visitors to the City have fully embraced these new outdoor facilities, which often provide new and exciting vantage points to enjoy whilst eating and drinking. In fact, it has been estimated that CaféTO diners spent a staggering $179 million between the months of May and September last year!

It all sounds so good so far, but could this year’s proposed City changes to the CaféTO program rock the boat and give businesses cold feet? In a recent news release, the City proposes to move the program from the original emergency response initiative it was introduced as, to a more sustainable plan from 2023 and onwards. In a nutshell, there appears to be a whole host of new fees and regulations that could easily sway interested CaféTO participants to stick within the size limitations of their own premises and not bother expanding outside.

One of the first hurdles for bars and restaurants applying for the CaféTO program is the proposed new one time application fee of $865. Then on top of that, a yearly permit fee that will vary on the size of the curb side or sidewalk patio. Figures mentioned in the report estimate that this could be anywhere between $1400 for an average sidewalk patio and $3000 for an average curb side patio. So already, those costs combined with the application fee are somewhat off-putting to businesses already hard-strapped for cash.

The City report also proposes that in order to make patio installations ‘beautiful, active and accessible’ there will need to be strict guidelines and measures for how these temporary structures should be constructed. To give some idea of cost, the report suggests around $14,000 to properly create a curb side patio structure, a substantial sum indeed for any small businesses. There’s an additional question that many bar or restaurant owner will have too, as in where will those temporary structures be stored during Winter months, and at what additional cost?

All of these City proposals for the CaféTO program are currently being discussed, and maybe there will be some movement in fees and flexibility in guidelines that accommodate the budgets of all sizes of bars and restaurants. The City’s hospitality scene is still recovering from the pandemic’s aftermath and the myriad of challenges that continue to present. Fingers crossed that this patio season in Canada’s largest city is better than ever and that CaféTO continues to contribute to its success.

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