Cutting of outdoor patio fees a relief for East Toronto restaurant owners

This Beach Metro Community News file photo shows outdoor restaurant patios set up in the curb lane of Queen Street East in the Beach.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Toronto City Council approved a motion to phase in CafeTO fees over a three-year period at its meeting last Tuesday.

Councillors voted 23-2 at the Feb. 7 meeting in favour of the change which now sees businesses pay a one-time application fee of $285 for the outdoor patios. Permit fees have also been reduced to $14.56 per square metre for sidewalk patios and $43.70 per square metre for curbside dining.

The fees are expected to increase by two-thirds in 2024 before participating restaurants will have to pay the full amount recommended by City of Toronto staff in 2025.

Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford told Beach Metro Community News in an email statement last week that his support for CafeTO came as a result of the program’s success.

“Every single neighbourhood has success stories from CaféTO,” said Bradford.

“In Beaches-East York, we’ve seen CaféTO bring back some vibrancy and energy to our communities along both Danforth Avenue and Queen Street in particular, but also pockets of Gerrard Street and Kingston Road.”

Bradford said that the City of Toronto will also be expanding the Amplified Live Music on Patios Pilot so that “all CaféTO patios across Toronto have the option to provide space for local artists to play live music”.

The motion at the Feb. 7 meeting was introduced by Mayor John Tory after the city received backlash from businesses, as well as Restaurants Canada, over the high cost of participating in the CaféTO program this year.

The initial staff report suggested a one-time application fee of $865 and a permit fee that would cost up to $1,449 for a sidewalk dining area, or $3,077 for a curbside patio.

Torontonians were quick to remind local politicians that the new fees would only further financially strain restaurants that are still recovering from COVID-19’s impact on the economy.

One councillor that publicly disapproved of city staff’s proposal was Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher who’s ward held a large percentage of the total CafeTO participants last year.

“The decision to make it permanent was well received by the BIA’s in Ward 14 (Toronto-Danforth) however many have told me that the proposed changes are too big and too fast to ensure the continued success of the program,” said Fletcher prior to the approved changes. “Especially with the federal government requiring the repayment of their COVID loans in 2023.”

This financial burden plagued the minds of many restaurant owners who said they would drop out of the program if it wasn’t amended.

Restaurants Canada representatives revealed that 60 percent of restaurants in a survey said they would be unable to participate in the program at the proposed costs originally put forward by the city.

“The industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and while most expected 2022 to welcome a rebound, restaurants struggled with crushing debt, labour shortages, supply chain challenges and inflation,” read a Restaurants Canada statement.

According to the member-based trade association, this has forced 50 per cent of restaurants to just break even or operate at a loss.

Anthony Greene, co-owner of Castro Lounge on Wineva Avenue in the Beach, said that although CaféTO helped the restaurant stay afloat last year, they wouldn’t participate again if the new costs stayed the same — especially if they had to invest $14,000 into constructing the mandated platforms that make outdoor dining areas level with the sidewalk.

“That helps nobody. Because all the money we make would then go to paying that.” said Greene.

“It might help for the big bars who are doing really well because they can afford that. But for a small bar like this, $14,000 and we might just be breaking even. That’s a huge chunk of money.”

City staff said the levelling is to increase accessibility for the disabled community without the use of temporary ramps which were unpopular due to their obstructive nature.

Greene, however, pointed out that the program creates an uneven playing field because restaurants that are unable to participate would essentially lose out to the ones that can afford to make the financial sacrifice.

“It’s people with more money who will benefit,” said Greene.

A little west of Castro Lounge is Otherside Pizza. The owner, who wants to remain anonymous, thinks that the city left them with no choice but to register. He reiterated Greene’s position but said he is not willing to lose customers to restaurants with outdoor dining.

As a new establishment that has only been open for two months, Otherside is still in a hiring phase. The restaurant would possibly have to defer some recruitments in order to meet the city’s roadside patio standards, the owner said.

However, the City of Toronto plans on providing financial assistance of up to $7,500 to help restaurants offset construction costs.

Although some restaurants might still find themselves in financial trouble even after the city’s subsidy, Restaurants Canada sees council’s adaptation of their recommendations on Feb. 7 as a win.

“We are thankful for the efforts of city staff, the Mayor and Council who heard the concerns of our industry stakeholders and brought forth a phased approach to significantly reduce the financial impact of the proposed changes to CaféTO,” said Tracy Macgregor, Vice President of Ontario for Restaurants Canada.

“For many restaurants, CaféTO still serves as an emergency response initiative helping to support the devastating financial impact of the pandemic on operators, so it is imperative that the program remain affordable.”

CaféTO was introduced in 2020 to help local bars and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The successful program created a way for restaurants to serve customers outside their establishments during times when indoor dining was prohibited as the city attempted to curb the spreading of the virus.

With 1,327 participants in 2022, the program generated $203 million in economic benefits for the City of Toronto.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.


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