Safe dining during pandemic takes centre stage as bars and restaurants get ready for patio season

A University of Guelph professor says there are certain steps bars and restaurants can take to ensure safe patio dining during the COVID-19 pandemic as Ontario gets ready for patio season.

Ontario announced changes Monday to help dining establishments get ready

On Monday Attorney General of Ontario Doug Downey announced changes to help bars and restaurants get ready for patio season. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

There are certain steps bars and restaurants can take to ensure safe patio dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Ontario gets ready for patio season, a University of Guelph professor says.

On Monday, Attorney General of Ontario Doug Downey announced changes to help bars and restaurants get ready for patio season. The move will allow licensed establishments to temporarily expand their outdoor patios or add a new one once they are permitted to reopen.

Jeffery Farber an adjunct professor of food microbiology in the department of food science at Guelph, said wait staff should wear face masks or shields.

"The concept of the masks is: 'you protect me and I protect you.' We know they are not foolproof but they can help reduce transmission," he said.

"Transmission of this virus is not as much of a concern outside because it's not closed in, but even on patios, tables will need to be spaced apart, both for customers' sake and to ensure ample room for wait staff to move around," professor Jeffery Farber said.

Farber cautioned that there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of transmitting the virus, but he said there are ways to reduce it.

'Transmission of this virus is not as much of a concern outside because it’s not closed in,' Prof. Jeffrey Farber says. (Submitted by Prof. Jeffrey Farber)

Other measures being recommended by Farber to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 include:

  • Having patios opened and extending out into sidewalks and streets.
  • Physical distancing where tables are basically six feet apart, and no more than five people at a table.
  • Having limited contact between the server and the patrons.
  • Using hand sanitizer before you sit down to eat and after you eat.
  • Ensure that lined-up customers do not come into close contact with the patio customers.
  • Put marks on the floor of any area where a lineup may occur.
  • Mark direction of travel to designate the entrance and exit for washrooms and pickup areas. 
  • Post signage promoting physical distancing upon entry into restaurants.
  • As much as possible, use disposable menus. 
  • Have the cutlery wrapped in a napkin to avoid people touching them more than they need to.
  • Wear a mask and remove it only when you're eating.

Measures take effect when bars, restaurants can reopen

Measures announced Monday will let licensed establishments set up a new patio or expand an existing patio without the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario requiring an application or fee.

It won't take effect, however, until bars and restaurants are allowed to fully reopen for business.

The changes Downey announced build on earlier changes he made to support the hospitality sector during the public health emergency by allowing licensed restaurants and bars to offer takeout and delivery of alcohol with food orders and extending all liquor licences for three months at no extra cost to licensees.

Patio pressure washed

Kitchener restaurant operator Darryl Moore says they did a general cleaning when the lockdown was announced and they are now in the process of cleaning again and putting other measures in place in preparation for reopening.

"We'll start getting the keg order back in and get the bars cleaned off," Moore told CBC News.

"At Bobby O'Brien's, we had our patio all pressure washed over the weekend and we're also starting to map out our seating plans ⁠— probably eliminating about 50 per cent of the seating ⁠— and ensuring that we have safe seating once we get the guests back out on the patio.

"In terms of the PPE [personal protective equipment], we actually have ordered in about 400 or 500 reusable-washable masks that we'll be issuing to the staff ... Staff will be required to wear PPE at all times. If they want a face shield or something of that sort they're more comfortable with, they're certainly welcome to do so as well," Moore added.

The patio at Bobby O'brien's in Kitchener. (Joseph Pavia/CBC)

Meanwhile, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) says it will not require licensees to apply or pay a fee for these temporary extensions, but licensed establishments must ensure they have municipal approval and meet all other applicable requirements. 

The new measures will be in effect until January 1, 2021 at 3 a.m.

AGCO registrar and CEO Jean Major said in a statement that they are "constantly looking for ways to be flexible with the hospitality sector, so when the time is right, they can open with the confidence that they will be able to keep customers and staff safe."

"By extending outdoor patio spaces, we hope it will help our licensed establishments get back on their feet more quickly."


  • An earlier version of the story misspelled Jeffrey Farber's name.
    Jun 08, 2020 4:45 PM ET

With files from Joseph Pavia


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