Restaurateurs hoping for early spring opening of enhanced CafeTO as city mulls improvements

As the pandemic stretches into 2021, Mayor John Tory's executive committee will look at recommendations Tuesday for a bigger and better version of the CaféTO program, including making spaces more accessible.

'It saved us, definitely,' restaurant owner in The Beach explains

A Toronto restaurant patio.
The CaféTO program provides some restaurants and bars with increased outdoor dining areas in the public right-of way. (City of Toronto, CaféTO report November 2020)

In the depths of winter, the hope of an early spring and early start to the city's CaféTO program means more to restaurateur Dana Kerbel than simply a break in the weather.

She sees it as a lifeline for her business in The Beach amid the pandemic as it stretches deeper into 2021. 

"It saved us, definitely," the co-owner of the Gull and Firkin pub explained in a telephone interview with CBC Toronto.

The program allowed Kerbel, 49, to generate "significant sales" so that "we were able to get down and have a little bit of a nest egg for now," she said.

Ontario's stay-at-home order means restaurant owners like Kerbel have had to adapt to keep their businesses going during the winter months.

Last summer, the City of Toronto implemented the CaféTO program, allowing main street restaurants and bars to open expanded curb-side patios so they could serve more customers, while giving them enough room to follow physical distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.

A report on the program, already approved by Mayor John Tory's executive committee, will go to city council next week. It includes details and key findings about the program, including the possibility of restarting it as early May.

The report includes recommendations to enhance the program, such as updating the registration process so that it's more straightforward, supporting quick installation of CaféTO locations, making curb lane cafes safer and allowing owners to build additional space for curb lane cafe areas where applicable.

Diagram of CafeTo program. The City of Toronto will provide restaurants with a revised guidebook for the 2021 program. It will include important and safety and accessibility guidelines that all operators must follow, including accessible entrances. (City of Toronto report November 2020)

It also includes a city-led survey, which states that of 2,800 respondents, including restaurant and bar owners and members of the public, 95 per cent wanted to see CaféTO operate in 2021, and 66 per cent of operators would not have made a profit were it not for the program.

Registration for the spring 2021 program opens in February.

Report recommends more access for people with disabilities

The report found the experience could be enhanced with more accessibility ramps installed at the time of the lane closures, as some people with disabilities found the spaces hard to access.

The city is developing a  revised guidebook for restaurants, which will include feedback from the accessibility community.

Between July and August 2020,  9,683 metres of curb lane space was closed for 621 restaurants, though according to the report, most ramps weren't installed until August.

"Staff will continue to work with restaurants to have curb ramps, in curb lane café areas, installed and are committed to continued enforcement of accessibility requirements to ensure safety for everyone using roads and sidewalks," said Jodi Callan, the CaféTO project manager in the city's Transportation Services department.

According to Callan, city staff will make a presentation to the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee on Feb. 10.

"Staff intend to use feedback from the accessibility community and others to improve these program guidelines going forward," said Callan.

Continued enforcement will also be part of the enhanced CafeTo program to ensure "operators are following important safety and accessibility guidelines," Callan explained.


Natalie Kalata

Senior Reporter, CBC News

Natalie is an award-winning senior reporter for CBC News Network and CBC The National specializing in breaking news. Whether it's a terror attack or a royal tour, she brings the stories to you. Natalie lives in Toronto with her husband and family.