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Last Friday, Step 1 of Ontario's reopening plan came into play with patios across the city, finally allowing Toronto's favourite restaurants and bars to open their doors and serve guests again in person. Needless to say, it was an overwhelming, yet exciting weekend for those in the foodservice industry.
Despite being eager to open their doors again after over a year of repetitive unpredictability, gross loss in income and a deceiving last-minute, short-lived reopening of patios in March that got the city hopeful for an improvement in the coming months, restaurants are understandably still not fully equipped for an efficient reopening.
From finalizing patios, to struggling to hire staff on time after many had moved on, to returning employees having to re-familiarize themselves with service again, many restaurants were once again met with a difficult feat––some even chose to keep their doors closed this past weekend because they simply couldn't operate again on such short notice.
For those who did open, patios were packed. In fact, once 12:01 a.m. hit last Friday, June 11, many patios that could open did until last call at 2 a.m. and they were not only filled with people again, but many even had line ups already full of customers who've been long-awaiting their return.
Recognizing that like in the past, when restaurants could reopen again it would be announced very last minute, Oretta on King Street was much more prepared than they were previously to welcome guests again.
"We had been preparing for a while to reopen the restaurant. We were apprehensive and unsure when the federal government would announce the reopening, and we were convinced that as in the past they wouldn’t give us enough time," says Ana Altamira of Oretta's creative marketing team.
"We have a great team, filled with hard-working individuals who pulled long hours before and during the reopening weekend, from back of house to front of house, menus, inventory, cleaning and sanitizing, patio setup, staffing, training, signage et cetera, everything was handled from the weeks prior to June 11."
Especially being located on King Street West, one of the more popular areas to visit for a lively night out in the city and being known to offer some of Toronto's best modern Italian fare in a stylish environment, Oretta was aware that once their patio opened, they would have to be as well-equipped as possible for the influx of customers.
"We are grateful to have such a loving community who has supported Oretta even during lockdown. People were constantly inquiring about our patio reopening and as soon as reservations opened up on our end, we had calls coming in non-stop," Altamira says. "It’s been truly gratifying to see both of our patios filled with the smiles of friends and families reuniting. This past weekend was a boost of energy for our entire team, and we’ll continue to do everything necessary to keep our guests safe."
On the East end of the city, The Broadview Hotel dominates in aesthetic skyline views of Toronto on their lavish rooftop patio. They too were more prepared to invite guests into their space again, but still faced challenges while doing so.
"Honestly, everyone was a little bit rusty after being away for some time," says Christine Mulligan, director of sales and marketing at The Broadview Hotel. "After a few long days of prepping and training, everyone worked together to deliver what we hope was a great first weekend."
Being known for their gorgeous rooftop patio and providing the perfect backdrop for your Instagram feed, as well as acting as a temporary escape from the busyness of the downtown core, they were booked up very quickly.
"Once we opened up our reservations online, we were fully booked within hours, especially for the prime weekend dates," Mulligan says. "The next steps will be to expand our capacity and have indoor dining open up, once we get the green light."
Since restaurants can't operate with full capacity or invite diners indoors yet, that's still a lot of potential revenue and opportunity to keep busy that they can't capitalize on. Speaking of which, we can't forget about those in the city who still can't serve guests in their space. For those restaurants with no ability to offer outdoor dining that can't even access curb-side patios due to limited space around their business, reopening patios again while keeping indoor dining closed has much potential to continuously harm their ability to operate longterm. Understandably, guests are flocking outdoors with the warm weather as further encouragement, to enjoy dining in person again to support restaurants.
Family-owned restaurant Rain Sushi on St. Clair West does not have any space for CaféTO patios to aid them in welcoming diners back, forcing them to continue to rely on customers ordering takeout to stay afloat. On top of already offering affordable, high-quality seafood and expanding their menu, they also consistently offer promotions on their orders.
"There has been a noticeable difference in business since patios opened," says the restaurant. "As the summer progresses, it is hard to tell how business is going to continue if indoor dining stays closed. We would like to have a patio opened, but this is not possible for us due to space limitation. Our location is close to a bus stop and streetlight so setting up a patio is not realistic for us."
They're in the same boat as many other restaurants in the city who are left with a staggering decrease in sales since those with outdoor dining reopened this week.
"Restaurants are still struggling and we are so thankful for the guests that continue to support us on a take out basis. This is why we are having promotions or throwing in free items as a way to say thank you from us."
Heading into this weekend, being the second week that restaurants and bars are able to open their patios, regardless of the weather, they're expecting to be busy yet again. While you rally in support for those with outdoor spaces you can lounge on, keep those you can't in mind too.
Hopefully the return of in-person dining is here to stay, with a gradual move through Steps 2 and 3 of the Province's reopening plan moving forward ahead of schedule.