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This summer, expect to see a lot more pylons on the streets of Toronto but rest assured, it's not all construction.
A news release issued by the City of Toronto on April 28 showed a glimmer of hope regarding the long-awaited restoration of outdoor dining. In the release, Mayor John Tory confirmed that the City of Toronto will begin patio installations as early as May 8. As part of CafeTO's initiative, city crews have already begun constructing curb lane and parklet installations this past Saturday, in anticipation of restrictions being lifted.
“We know at some point, we will be able to reopen again and we want to make sure we are doing everything as a city to help businesses be ready to safely welcome customers at the earliest date possible," says Tory. "They need these extra outdoor seats to start earning back revenue lost during the pandemic. Keeping these installations on track in May will ensure that the street patios are ready to go in hundreds of locations when public health officials determine the measures can change and outdoor dining can be allowed again.”
And this year, restaurants and bars don't have to wait for a patio installation or safety check, as they are prepared to open their doors at the flick of a switch.
"This move is essential for our restaurant owners. A lot of them have actually closed down during the winter months and have long relied on the return of CafeTO and the outdoor dining season," says Jennifer Lay, Executive Director of the Riverside Business Improvement Area (BIA).
With the help of CafeTO, restaurants will have the opportunity to recover from the pandemic and its losses, making their return to a simpler time.
“It’s really important that we support our local restaurants during this time, even if it requires a little bit of creativity and adaptability. Last year, we didn’t really know what we were doing. But now, CafeTO has evolved into this wonderful program," says Meg Marshall, a coordinator at the Queen Street West BIA.
Now in its second year, the program has received an unprecedented amount of submissions for outdoor dining expansions and installations. In 2020, the city partnered with over 800 restaurants in 62 BIAs and set up 439 curb lanes and 44 public parklet patios. This number has since grown.
Over the last few months, CafeTO has verified nearly 770 applications and accepted more than 300 sidewalk cafes and 70 public parklets, placing restaurants in the first step of the registration process. Although the deadline to register was April 26, the CafeTO team has announced that a new window will be opened shortly, allowing more restaurants to apply.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see more patios this year," says Lay.
The City of Toronto anticipates an expansion unlike ever before, with far more patios in 2021 than in 2020.
Although it is unclear when outdoor dining will resume, restaurant owners and workers remain optimistic, eagerly awaiting the much-anticipated, and hopefully, final lifting of Toronto's stay-at-home order.
So, the next time you're strolling through the city and come across a pylon, take a quick look around. It might just lead you to your next favourite patio spot.