City details plan to allow restaurants and bars to expand patios onto sidewalks, curb lanes

Tory said the move will likely see patios expanded to sidewalks and curb lanes, allowing restaurants and bars to take a step toward reopening while maintaining physical distancing. 

Timeline of plan depends on when province's reopening plan moves ahead

Mayor John Tory says the city has been working with the province on a plan to allow restaurants and bars to increase the number of tables outside while allowing patrons and staff to maintain physical distancing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The City of Toronto will allow restaurants and bars to expand their patios — increasing the number of tables outside — once establishments are given the green light to open for more than takeout and delivery, Mayor John Tory said Thursday.

Tory said the move, dubbed "CaféTO," will likely see patios expanded to sidewalks and curb lanes, allowing restaurants and bars to take a step toward reopening while maintaining physical distancing. 

While Tory couldn't give a clear timeline for the implementation of the new plan, he said it will likely be part of the province's second phase of reopening and easing restrictions. 

"At my urging, the city can act quickly, at lighting speed, as soon as provincial order is lifted," Tory said at a morning briefing on the plan.

"This is an industry that has been terribly hard hit, and we also [know] this industry is important to people." 

Tory said thousands of employees have been out of work since restaurants and bars across the city were told in March to offer only takeout and delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"This [plan] will help those struggling businesses," he said. 

Permits, fees waived

The city has been working with the province to expedite permits and liquor licenses that would normally be needed to serve food and drinks on sidewalks and city streets. 

Additionally, Tory said the city plans to waive fees that would accompany those expansion permits, which will be an "additional help" to businesses attempting to financially recover.

Tory also said many local BIAs have also jumped on board, helping the city identify "space in public right of way" that could be used to expand business' operations. 

"This is an important economic rescue initiative," he said.   

The city says it has also taken "significant" additional steps toward launching the initiative, including: 

  • Creating a cross-divisional action team to oversee the program quickly and efficiently.
  • Reviewing a number of current requirements, including waiving the patio fees, that would otherwise be levied on expanded space. 
  • Planning for the reallocation of curb lanes. 
  • Establishing the essential café placements guidelines that will ensure these patios can be operational as soon as possible after they are permitted.
  • Working with businesses to establish safe physical distancing guidelines. 

The move follows a request from the mayor last month, asking city staff from Transportation Services to identify areas where restaurants could expand their patio space as part of his overall COVID-19 recovery plan.

'Get ready to go'

At the briefing Thursday, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson emphasised the importance for businesses in the sector to "get ready to go" to ensure their patios can open immediately once Ontario eases its provincial orders. 

"It's really important that we are ready to go once the orders are lifted," he said. 

Thompson added that in Toronto, there are currently 8,000 restaurants. Of those, 660 operate outdoor sidewalk cafés and patios on public property, while 542 are operated on private property. 

Many restaurant owners have been either forced out of business or continue to struggle to make ends meet since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city says its plan to expand patios across Toronto will help 'struggling' businesses. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

And thanks to the city's new initiative, Thompson said patio expansions and new patios are likely to pop up in additional spots across the city. 

"We know that patio seasons would normally be in full gear at this particular point in time," Thomspson said.

"Patios play such a crucial role of importance in the economic and social vitality of our main street and city has a whole." 

Those patios will soon help the city recover from the "economic gut punch" it has received during the pandemic, Thompson added. 

Meanwhile, Tory announced Wednesday that licensed street food vendors, including food trucks and ice cream trucks, are allowed to resume operations in the city. All vendors will be expected to maintain physical distancing requirements and provide health and safety measures for their staff, he said.