Toronto unanimously approves bigger and better CaféTO program

Toronto City Council has unanimously approved the proposal for a bigger and better CaféTO program to help Toronto’s main street restaurants and bars during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first wave of registration for the expanded program will begin in late February, says a news release. Pending public health orders, the first approved curb lane closure locations for 2021 would be in installed as soon as May – almost two months earlier than last year.

The plan for a intensified CaféTO was supported by Mayor John Tory and went to a vote on February 5.

The City describes CaféTO as “a quick-start pandemic response program.” It launched last summer to provide urgent help to local restaurants and bars.

Mayor Tory said: “We are bringing CaféTO back and it will be bigger and better this year. The restaurant operators and BIAs we have heard from are enthusiastic about the return of this program because it has helped local businesses stay in business, helped protect jobs, and CaféTO has improved the quality of life in our city for residents.”

The release says that key findings and outcomes from last year’s program will support a bigger and better CaféTO this year.

During the summer of 2020, when outdoor dining was permitted, the City says CaféTO helped hundreds of restaurant and bar operators by making it easier to open patios in curb lanes and along sidewalks, expanding them and accessing additional space for physical distancing. The extra space helped operators generate revenue and enliven nearby public spaces.

City staff will again work closely with BIAs and local restaurant and bar operators to make enhancements including:

  • Updating the registration process so that it is an even more clear and straightforward process with registrations starting sooner
  • Developing comprehensive and safe traffic management plans to help make sure the curb lane cafés are as a safe as possible for people dining, employees and road users
  • Supporting quick CaféTO installations so that we can begin helping approved businesses as soon as possible once winter is over
  • Allowing some owners/operators to build decks and platforms for curb lane café areas, where applicable
  • Ensuring there is accessible furniture for public parklet areas
  • Commitment to ensure more restaurants outside of the city’s core are ready to take advantage of opportunities for quick expansion of outdoor dining

A City-led CaféTO survey of approximately 2,800 respondents, comprising restaurant and bar owners/operators and members of the public, indicated that:

  • 95 per cent of respondents wanted to see CaféTO operate in 2021
  • 90 per cent of those surveyed were very satisfied or satisfied with their patio experience
  • • 66 per cent of operators said their restaurant would not have been financially viable without CaféTO

In 2020, CaféTO supported 801 restaurants in 62 BIAs, as well as 96 restaurants outside of BIAs. An additional 44 public parklets in BIAs were activated. The 439 curb lane closures converted 9,683 metres of traffic lanes into new outdoor dining space for restaurants.

Toronto City Council also directed City staff to be prepared to work with health officials and local business owners to continue the CurbTO program in a way that best supports prevailing public health direction and guidance.

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