pennies bar toronto

Toronto bar known for cheap drinks implements $2 seat charge for all customers

Whether abolishing tips, diversifying servicesraising prices, staging class action lawsuits or straight up grinding their butts off (and they all are), Toronto restaurant owners have been doing the most in recent months to break even while keeping their staff employed and fairly compensated.

More and more innovative ways to offset the losses of COVID-19 have been emerging since Toronto entered Stage 3 of Ontario's reopening plan on July 31 — and some of them are more transparent than others.

Pennies at 127 Strachan Ave. is making no bones about what it needs from customers right now to continue dishing out cheap drinks and sliders.

"This patio SZN we're charging a $2 Seat Charge," reads a card displayed at every single table around the unmissable yellow resto-bar, located just south of Trinity Bellwoods Park between West Queen West and King Street.

"What's that u ask? Well, to keep up with increased sterilization of our space, provide sanitizer 2 u, and PPE to our staff - all things we have 2 do in this new Covid World - we have to charge 2 bucks a head for all seated guests."

Pennies owner James Bateman confirmed on Friday that the $2 per person seat charge has been in effect since the business reopened after its government-mandated COVID closure in March.

"First and foremost, we want to be clear that the seating charge is not a surprise added onto a guest's bill. We have signage on all tables, we mention the charge on the menu, and a staff member always mentions the charge to the table before accepting any orders," Bateman explained of the idea.

"Our social media team also lets anyone who asks about the patio know about the charge in advance. We have had minimal - if any - pushback when communicating the charge to guests thus far."

Like most businesses that were forced to close under provincial emergency orders when the pandemic first hit, costs are up while revenues are down.

"Our profits are smaller than ever with less customers and more costs associated with running our establishment 'to Covid Code,'" said Bateman, referring to strict new health and safety rules for bar and restaurant owners from the Ontario government and the City of Toronto.

pennies bar torontoBateman cited costs such as additional support staff to collect contract tracing info and manage waitlists, PPE (caps, face shields, disposable masks and gloves) for staff, physical distancing decals, which tear often and need to be replaced, increased cleaning supplies and an extensive patio build as the reasons for needing an income boost.

"These are all costs we didn't have prior to COVID. We have experienced firsthand local establishments raising their prices. We of course understand why they've had to do this, but we felt that raising our prices with no explanation was sneaky. So we opted for an up-front 'seat charge.'"

The business owner says that his team is consistently reevaluating the seating charge,  as well as menu offerings, the seating situation — "all of it" — and that the $2 charge is a temporary measure meant to help keep the business alive.

"Small, local businesses like our have had to make changes in order to survive. We deeply appreciate everyone who has left their homes to come out and spend their money with us," said Bateman.

"We also totally respect the folks that aren't able to get back to visiting bars and restaurants, or who don't want to pay a seat charge, even after hearing our explanation of it. It's hard out here for everyone!"

Photos by

Lauren O'Neil

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