Toronto set to approve permanent, year-round CaféTO program

Toronto’s popular CaféTO program, a measure born out of the pandemic that allowed restaurant and bar patios to extend onto sidewalks and roadways, could become a permanent year-round initiative.

The City of Toronto Executive Committee has approvedproposal supported by Mayor John Tory to make the program permanent through a “phased” approach and also waive fees for next year to give a further boost to hospitality businesses hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions.

This report recommends a new streamlined registration process for future, permanent CaféTO sidewalk cafés starting in 2022, which would see restaurant operators only need to apply once for year-round expanded sidewalk cafés. In the meantime, existing temporary CaféTO sidewalk cafés can remain in place until April 14, 2022.

The report will now be considered by Toronto City Council on November 9 and 10.

While the report recommends the return of temporary curb lane cafés next year, with installation starting as early as May 2022, it also includes a recommendation to develop criteria for the permanent, seasonal use of curb lane cafés by 2023.

The Executive Committee also asked City staff to report back on a plan to encourage additional outdoor dining opportunities and business supports such as grants and promotional programs in suburban areas of Toronto, as well as a plan to manage underutilized café spaces. The Committee also approved a motion from Tory to look at more permanent structures, locations, and services in suitable CaféTO locations.

“The CaféTO program has been successful and popular and has helped hundreds of restaurants stay open, generate revenue and protect jobs through the pandemic,” said Tory. “I am encouraged that members of the Executive Committee recognized the value and support that has been provided to local businesses through CaféTO. This is a good program for restaurants and residents, and I am committed to making sure it continues.”

CaféTO was launched in June 2020 to help foodservice operations during the early months of the pandemic as fears grew over indoor dining and has been enthusiastically received by both the foodservice industry and the Toronto-area public. City Council renewed an expanded form of the program in February.

This year, CaféTO is supporting more than 1,200 restaurants with expanded outdoor dining opportunities on streets and sidewalks, a 51 per cent increase from 2020, including 940 restaurants with curb lane closures, totalling more than 12 linear kilometres of public space allocated for outdoor dining opportunities. A City news release states that 69 Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) have had at least one restaurant participating in CaféTO this year and 158 participating restaurants are located outside of BIAs.

This summer, the City launched a public survey for restaurant operators, customers and the general public to gather feedback about CaféTO. The survey received more than 10,000 responses which showed that 91 per cent of respondents believed that extended sidewalk and curb lane cafés should be allowed in Toronto in the future.

Approximately 500 restaurants city-wide already carry a permanent permit for a sidewalk patio, and in 2021, 429 restaurants opened a new, or expanded an existing, sidewalk café through CaféTO.

“CaféTO has been one of our most successful pandemic relief programs. It has positively impacted our city and it has positively impacted hospitality businesses that call Toronto home and that is because we made the decision, as simple as it may be, to turn parking spaces into patios,” Tory added at the initial proposal stage, per CP24. “We know that people want this program to return, I want this program to return but that is not just because it is good for business. It changed the look and the feel of our city for the better.”

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