Restaurant patios in Ontario began reopening from Friday, June 11 as part of the province’s newly outlined reopening plan.
Step One of the plan started on Friday, three days earlier than had been previously planned. The most pertinent news for restaurants and bars is that all outdoor patios in the province are now able to serve up to four people per table for dining.
An exception is in place for households with more than four people.
Ontarians were evidently just as delighted to sit outdoors in the sun at a restaurant or bar as operators were to welcome them back. Across Toronto and the entire province over the weekend, patios were teeming with happy patrons with long lines waiting to get in.
Sanjay Venu, a regional director overseeing two Earl’s restaurants in Toronto and Mississauga, told Global News he had “about 14 text messages Monday afternoon from regulars wanting reservations for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and next week… People are excited to get back to the routine, back to being social, back to interacting and creating memories.” His restaurants’ patios were completely full and saw a steady stream of walk-ins on Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Adam Winkler, owner of Wink’s Eatery in London, told Global: “Every time we come out of lockdown, it feels like opening a brand new restaurant all over again. We’re trying to train everyone into the mindset that this reopening (is) one that we want to keep moving forward and hopefully we never look back again.”
Meanwhile, the City of Guelph opened its downtown dining district, featuring closed streets and extended patios, to the public for the first time in 2021. Other cities have also taken measures to capitalize on the reopening, including Barrie, which has voted to extend its patio hours until indoor dining is opened again.
Earlier than anticipated
Premier Doug Ford’s government had previously set a target date of June 14 to formally enter the first step of a new three-step reopening plan. However, encouraging data in recent days has seen it push that timeline up by three days.
The reopening has also allowed other businesses including non-essential retail stores to reopen for the first time in months. All non-essential retail stores with street-front entrances can reopen at 15 per cent of capacity. Retail deemed essential can operate at 25 per cent of capacity.
The province reported 525 new cases on Monday, June 7. That is the lowest count since September 27 and means daily counts have now remained below 1,000 since May 31.
“Thanks to the ongoing success of Team Ontario’s vaccine rollout and the ongoing improvements in public health trends, we are able to enter step one of the Roadmap and begin to safely and cautiously lift restrictions,” Ford said on Monday.
While the earlier reopening has proven frustrating for some operators due to the lack of advanced notice, moving into Step One represents a big step forward for the industry on the way to recovery.
Looking down the road
The province will remain in Step One for at least 21 days. If at the end of that period the province has vaccinated 70 per cent of adults with one dose and 20 per cent of adults with two doses, and there are also continuous improvements in other key public health and health system indicators, Ontario will move to Step Two.
The plan is for the second step to widen outdoor dining to six people per table, essential retail capacities to 50 per cent, and non-essential retail capacities to 25 per cent.
Indoor dining would not reopen until Step Three is reached.
Ontario patios reopening continues a trend of dining restrictions being lifted to various extents across Canada.
Across the border in Quebec, patio dining was reopened on Friday, May 28 as the province-wide curfew was lifted after nearly five months. Meanwhile, British Columbia reopened for indoor dining at limited capacity on May 25 for the first time in two months.
However, in Ontario, advocacy groups had criticized the latest reopening plan for not doing enough to support foodservice and hospitality.
On June 7, after the announcement that outdoor dining’s relaunch would be brought forward three days, Restaurants Canada said that while it welcomes the announcement, subsidies must remain in place and existing supports need to be reinforced.
The group noted that even with the advanced reopening of outdoor dining, by the time Ontario’s restaurants are allowed to reopen, most provincial dining rooms will have been closed for more than 365 days, and that Toronto’s shutdown of 381 days is the longest in the world.
It adds that most of Ontario’s restaurants were allowed to operate patio dining for just 95 days throughout more than a year in lockdown. In particular, restaurants in Toronto will have been completely shut down for a total of 286 days without even being given the option to serve customers on patios, despite a proven significantly lower risk of COVID-19 transmission in outdoor settings.