Alberta restaurant and bar owners thirsty for more patio space may soon be quenched.

Minister of Finance Joe Ceci announced relaxed regulations for patio spaces on Sunday, allowing businesses to define their patios by using planters or other decorative items like furniture.

In the past, restaurants and bars had to build a one-metre-high enclosure.

patio Stephen Avenue Walk

Restaurants and bars along Stephen Avenue are part of the Calgary Downtown Association which has specific rules around patio fences. (Kate Adach/CBC)

According to the provincial government, the changes are meant to modernize liquor regulations to support the industry from "grain to glass," as well as create a more visually appealing experience for customers while reducing the financial barrier businesses face when building, expanding or renovating a patio.

Licensed restaurants and bars in Alberta can now:

  • Connect licensed premises to other areas without the need for previously required one-metre-high separations
  • Have a permanent opening between two licensed premises where they are operated by the same licensee
  • Offer direct access to a minors-prohibited premises from another licensed area
  • Define a licensed premises using permanent or portable barriers such as planters, ropes, railings or similar items

Calgary Coun. Druh Farrell said the changes did not come easily.

"I have been talking with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) for many years about modernizing the rules around outdoor patios and liquor licenses and it was very difficult to do the right thing," Farrell said.

Druh Farrell

Coun. Druh Farrell says the tone of the political discourse was more respectful 16 years ago when she was first elected. (Kate Adach/CBC)

"It is a defining characteristic of a great street, a great retail street, if people feel comfortable enough to sit out on a patio. Creating cages on public spaces, it constricts the pedestrian, it isolates the patio from the street activity, so this is great news," she said. 

 "It leaves it up to discretion and the city then can look at proper planning rules around whether or not it fits into a neighbourhood."

Alain Maisonneuve, acting CEO and president of the AGLC, said the change puts the province in a good position relative to other jurisdictions.

Alain Maisonneuve

Alain Maisonneuve of the AGLC says rules across the country are not consistent. (Kate Adach/CBC)

"There is a patchwork of policies across the country and in some cases we are way ahead and in some cases we are a bit behind," he said.

But there is discretion involved. For example, pubs and restaurants along Stephen Avenue are covered by the Calgary Downtown Association, which has its own rules around fences.

Spokesperson Maggie Schofield says there are no plans for changes this year or next.

"The properties on Stephen Avenue Walk are zero property lines so the restaurants don't own the space, which is different from most areas in the city. All of the money collected is reinvested in programming and pageantry to bring people to the mall," Schofield said in an email.

But for diner owner Dwaine Boser, that's part of the problem. He said the association requires businesses with patios to rent the fencing through the association, for consistency. He'd like that rule to be relaxed too.

Dwaine Boser

Dwaine Boser says he has to pay for fence rental for his Stephen Avenue diner. He would like that rule relaxed too.

"I paid for the fence probably five times over, 10 times over, which does not make sense to me," Boser told CBC News.

"I have always said, 'Let us get our own fence,' but they said to me, even if we did get our own fence we would still have to pay an amount per square footage rental fee."

With files from Kate Adach