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It has been almost three weeks since restaurant patios opened in Toronto, and the city streets are starting to look more like they used to -- vibrant, lively and filled with aromas of different cuisines.
Toronto entered Stage 2 of reopening on June 24, meaning restaurants, cafes and bars were given the go-ahead to serve customers outdoors on patios, so long as they follow mandated regulations like sufficient spacing between tables (to name one).
TasteToronto reached out to a few chefs and restaurant owners around the city to find out how they have been coping since the city entered Stage 2.
Head Chef Ryan Campbell at Il Covo, a quaint restaurant in the heart of Little Italy, discussed the current state of things in an email interview with TasteToronto. When asked how their patio service has been faring these last few weeks, Chef Campbell replied, "I would not call it high demand but definitely increased interest compared to last year on our little patio." He added that "the takeout game has definitely slowed down… I've gathered that many restaurants are in the same boat with this right now."
Thankfully the weather seems to be cooperating as "only one bad night of weather affecting our patio so far. Its been a beautiful start to the summer! Fingers crossed" shares Chef Ryan. Weather will continue to play an even more significant factor in the daily income of restaurants. Patios must close down during inclement weather, as efficiency, safety and availability of food couriers are drastically affected by bad weather.
Like many smaller restaurants, the number of takeout orders varies dramatically on a day to day basis. Chef Campbell explains, "I am so excited for the day I can bring some staff members back, but at the moment, its still just me in the kitchen." It is hard to tell what the future holds or what will happen to many restaurants and restaurant workers. "If things remain in Stage 2, I have no idea if we or any restaurants will survive. Hopefully, we can all support each other even more in times like this," Ryan concludes in his email.
General manager at Patois Natalie Paré told TasteToronto that they "are SO happy to be back for patio service. We missed our guests and missed doing what we love, bringing people together with delicious food and great vibes. Navigating service during COVID-19 has been an adjustment, but our team is working hard, taking every precaution to ensure everyone's safety. The best part of reopening has been bringing our team back together and seeing the happiness of our guests enjoying themselves."
Owners Eran Shram, Guy Harlev and Lior Harlev of Cafe Landwer spoke with TasteToronto and explained, "First two weeks were an overall pleasant experience. We set up the patio experience to make our customers feel comfortable, with all staff wearing masks, disposable menus, social distanced tables and sanitization of all surfaces. As we have always done, operating to go above and beyond to service customer requests."
When asked about the restaurant owners' concerns, they shared that, "Concerns are a second wave and what we'll see in the future with COVID in our city."
Restaurant owners have had no other choice but to get creative when it comes to takeout, and the same goes for patio dining. Cafe Landwer's owners explain how they fully adapted their menu for takeout orders. "Initially, we never had our Shakshukas on our takeout menu because our cooking method worked best for dine-in services. So we changed our cooking method for takeout shakshuka where it still tastes delicious at home," they explained.
They have had to show the same flexibility and creativity for patio only services, and some restaurants are succeeding. "Overall confidence and demand for tables increased at all of our locations -- uptown, midtown and downtown. As people hear about our patios on social media, come back more frequently after their first patio visit and hear about others' positive experiences on our patios, we are seeing steadily growing demand," Cafe Landwer's owners explain.
Restaurants are expanding patios; some are creating patios from scratch and others can still only serve takeout or delivery because there isn't enough space. Patio-only dining is relatively new and restaurants will struggle with long wait times, proper staffing and diligence about protecting both staff and customers.
The restaurant industry's survival is vital to us all. We look forward to hearing from more and more restaurant owners and staff as the city listens to officials on what the next steps look like and make changes accordingly, especially as entering Stage 3 becomes more of a reality each day.