Vittoria Trattoria fined $880 for enclosed patio tent
Hard-hit restaurant industry struggling to figure out how to stay afloat in colder, wetter weather
As restaurants try to make their patios more comfortable for patrons as the weather turns colder and wetter, some are running afoul of the pandemic-era rules, while others are trying to figure out how — or whether — they can stay open.
Vittoria Trattoria was fined $880 and Fratelli Kanata was issued an official warning because the tents protecting their patios don't allow for enough ventilation.
While many others are following the rules for outdoor dining — the only option available to them since the province placed harsher restrictions on Ottawa restaurants and bars earlier this month — they are struggling to find a way to survive during colder months.
When restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen for in-person service back in July, the province and Ottawa Public Health (OPH) laid out a long list of requirements for owners, including rules about patios.
"If the outdoor dining area is covered by a roof, canopy, tent, awning or other element, at least two full sides of the outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors," according to provincial orders and OPH's guidance for restaurants.
Keeping the walls of tents rolled up wasn't a major concern during the warm summer months. But as the temperature has fallen in recent weeks, the city's bylaw department took to social media last week to remind dining establishments of the tent rules.
Some didn't get the message.
After receiving complaints about how closed in their tents seemed, bylaw issued Fratelli Kanata on Terry Fox Drive a warning on Friday, and fined Vittoria Trattoria on Rivergate Way $880 on Sunday evening.
Bylaw had called Vittoria Trattoria last week to warn them about the tent, but co-owner Domenic Santaguida said the message — left with a staff member — didn't seem very official, so he thought it was a crank call.
Santaguida said he's planning to challenge the fine, but he's more worried about how the restaurant can stay open under the current rules.
"We're trying it, but 30 per cent is the maximum we feel that we can open and still kind of give our guests a good experience," Santaguida told CBC.
"Even though they've said we can have the patios going until January, I don't know how anyone expected patios to be going until January with no sides."
The covered patio at Vittoria Trattoria is in the parking lot, so there isn't any protection from the elements from adjacent buildings. He said he's always had at least some of the tent open, but having two walls completely exposed isn't viable.
Santaguida said the 40 seats on the patio was a quarter of the restaurant's pre-pandemic capacity. The outdoor dining allowed him to hire three employees full time.
"But not with the sides 50 per cent open," he said. "It's just not feasible."
Winter patios more money, red tape
According to John Borsten, who owns the Zak's restaurant chain and is a partner in a number of other restaurants, the patio rules of keeping two sides of the tent open are relatively well-known in the industry.
"It makes sense if you think that dining inside is dangerous," he said — but it's a big challenge for restaurants "to be able to stay in the game."
Many owners are assuming that the ban on indoor dining will continue past the 28-day minimum set by the province. They're trying to buy tents and heaters, which are hard to find and expensive, Borsten said.
As well, trying to operate outdoors in winter comes with more municipal red tape.
The tents that most restaurants have up now won't withstand snow, so they'll have to be replaced.
However, due to their size and construction, some winter-worthy tent setups will require building permits from the city. And, as it stands, it's restaurants that will have to pay to clear snow from patios on city property.
These details are still being worked out between businesses and city officials. But it's a lot of work and expense for an experiment that may not pan out, Borsten said.
"This is a crazy situation and you've got to have the wherewithal to hang in there," he said. "And the biggest problem is just how every two weeks is a whole new game … I mean, will people eat out there when it's – 20 C?
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out."