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On March 20, news of patios being allowed to open came with little notice for restaurants across the city, and people did not hesitate in vocalizing their opinions on the decision.
Whilst some were unable to contain their excitement, others voiced frustration over what they deemed to be a careless move. With a little over ten days passing since opening, it looks like this impromptu patio season will be short-lived. After the announcement on March 20, not all places were up and running right away, in part over fears of safety.
"Despite the announcement allowing patios in Toronto to open this weekend, we are postponing patio dining at the Manor for a bit longer," tweeted popular Toronto bar Storm Crow Manor. "We’ve been waiting to see you for too long; we want to do it safe [and] right."
Though they did re-open later on, Storm Crow Manor was onto something, as it came to light late last week that a circuit breaker lockdown will come in to affect on April 3 across Ontario for a period of four weeks, in order to curb the rapid rise in COVID cases.
Jen Agg, a celebrated Toronto restauranteur, bar owner and author, took to Twitter with heavy criticism of the latest update.
"Restaurant people who scrambled to open their patios have every right to be mad, this obviously never should have happened," wrote Agg, who chose to not reopen any of her restaurants' patios amidst the green light.
Despite officials coming forward in recent weeks to outline their concerns for the restaurant industry and moving to include restaurant workers in phase two of the vaccine roll out, restaurant owners aired their reluctance to invest in fresh ingredients and produce, and to take on staff with no guarantee that patios would stay open for a prolonged period. Frustrations over the government's clear lack of understanding of how the restaurant industry works also contributed to the lukewarm response when they were first allowed to open up just over a week ago, and only reinforcing the anger in the community now that patios have been shut down again. In other words, this was a foreseeable issue, and more should be done in support of restaurants fluctuating between open and closed.
"In all honesty we saw it coming," says Sean Santos, the chef and co-owner of popular Saints Island Pies in Brockton Village. "It’s still frustrating, now over a year into this, the lack of sensitivity, knowledge and support for our industry and other small businesses by our city and province."
Saints had been a popular pizza pop-up heading into the fall of 2020, opening their brick and mortar location after great success. Although, the restaurant would struggle, like countless others, due to the restraints that takeout and delivery has. And like many, an early patio opening would have pumped some life into struggling businesses, even for a short while. The problem though, is that the government has not provided restaurants, especially ones that had opened during the pandemic, with sufficient support to help them out, which only fuels frustration even more.
Home Appliances, a relatively new food truck concept in the Yonge and Eglinton area, had been waiting patiently for outdoor dining to reemerge, and were ecstatic when they were finally able to set up picnic tables in front of the truck. Knowing that outdoor dining would be a massive revenue boost to their business, they were reasonably upset when the government prematurely pulled the plug.
"The patio is the bread and butter of our business. To have it open during seasons with warmer weather means the survival of our business," says Jen Liu, co-owner of Home Appliances alongside her partner Rob, both of whom have forgone paying themselves to keep their business up and running. "Because we are a new business, we don’t qualify for any of the government assistance programs that were birthed due to COVID."
Like many restaurants, the patio provided Home Appliances with more business, instead of relying on takeout and delivery only––which has been the case since they opened in the middle of winter.
Patio rules outlined by the government stated that diners must be from a single household. Though, Mayor John Tory admitted in a media briefing that 'it's not going to be realistic for us to be sort of checking everyone's drivers licence and interrogating them... people should just decide if they want to help themselves and their own health.'
Ultimately with patio dining, it seems the responsibility will always be put on customers to make their own decisions about the level of risk they're willing to take, but at the same time, it is the restaurant business and members of the public who suffer at the hands of ever changing regulation.
"We continue to be the scapegoat for rising numbers, when it’s our governments incompetency that’s the issue," says Santos.