Make CaféTO outdoor dining program permanent, city report recommends

Toronto city staff are recommending that city councill make the CaféTO outdoor dining program permanent and waive all fees associated with the program for 2022.

Public survey shows overwhelming support for sidewalks and curb lane patios

A Toronto restaurant patio.
City of Toronto staff are recommending that city council make the popular CaféTO outdoor dining program permanent. The program allows restaurants and bars to set up or expand patios on sidewalks and streets. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hundreds of restaurant and bar patios erected on Toronto sidewalks and streets could soon be there to stay after Mayor John Tory and several councillors endorsed a proposal to make the CaféTO outdoor dining program permanent.

The proposal is included in a city staff report that will be considered by the city's executive committee on Oct. 27. It also recommends waiving fees next year for the program to further support businesses struggling under COVID-19 restrictions.

"CaféTO has been one of our most successful pandemic relief programs," Tory said at a press conference Wednesday morning. 

"It has positively impacted on our city. It has positively impacted on hospitality businesses that call Toronto home and that is because we made the decision — simple as it may seem — to turn parking spaces into much-needed patios."

CaféTO was launched as a quick-start pandemic response in the summer of 2020 to help Toronto's main street restaurants and bars make more space for patrons and allow for physical distancing while indoor dining was restricted under the provincial government's COVID-19 pandemic response plan. City council re-upped the program on a temporary basis in 2021.

More than 1,200 restaurants made use of the CaféTO program in 2021 by setting up or expanding outdoor patios on streets, sidewalks and parklets, the city said, representing a 51 per cent increase from 2020.

Of the participating businesses, 940 added seating to curb-adjacent street lanes, with 12 kilometres of public space in total being allocated for outdoor dining.

Phased approach

In a news release Wednesday, the city said a public survey of restaurateurs and customers revealed overwhelming support for allowing sidewalk and curb lane patios in Toronto in the future. Out of 10,000 responses to the survey, over 91 per cent were positive, the city said.

"We know that people want this program to return. I want this program to return," said Tory. "But that is not just because it is good for business — it changed the look and the feel of our city for the better."

City staff are recommending a new "fast and streamlined" registration process that would require restaurants and bars to apply once for year-round expanded sidewalk patio permits, rather than annually.

For curb lane and parklet patios, staff are recommending 2022 be a "transition year" that sees the return of temporary curb lane cafés before making the program permanent in 2023 after traffic assessments are completed. 

"More work is required to monitor the impact of long-term curb lane closures on the travel network and determine what congestion mitigation strategies might need to be deployed in order to support permanent café installations, particularly as the city returns to pre-pandemic traffic levels," the report said.

Staff are also proposing the city create a fee structure to regain some of the costs of administering the program in future years. CaféTO cost the city approximately $2 million in direct expenditures and another $2 million in staff salaries in 2021, according to the report.

On top of that, the city lost approximately $2.2 million in revenue from the removal of 1,813 paid parking spaces to make space for curbside patios and another $775,000 by waiving sidewalk café permit fees in 2021, the report said.

Tory was joined at Wednesday's press conference by Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher, Beaches-East York Coun. Brad Bradford, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and Scarborough Southwest Coun. Gary Crawford, all of whom expressed support for the proposal to make CaféTO permanent. Other councillors, including Spadina-Fort York Coun. Joe Cressy and Toronto St. Paul's Coun. Josh Matlow, expressed their support on social media.

If approved by the executive committee, the report will go in front of the full city council at its next meeting on Nov. 9 or 10.