are patios open ontario

Ontario restaurants say patio closures cost the industry more than $100 million

If you think the provincial government's recent flip-flop on outdoor dining has been hard on Toronto residents, for whom that one sunny ray of hope was snatched away after just two weeks of patio season, imagine how it feels to be a business owner.

Customers may feel a bit screwed over by the abrupt change in rules, but the people behind Toronto's favourite bars and restaurants? They got royally effed.

And they want — nay, many would argue, they deserve — some sort of retribution.

"Last week's abrupt move to shut down all dining so soon after easing restrictions has cost Ontario's restaurants more than $100 million in reopening and closing costs alone," reads a joint open letter from the presidents of Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) to Premier Doug Ford.

"They are counting on your government to act quickly to save our industry, which typically employs more than 450,000 people."

This past Saturday, all patios in grey zone regions — which only just got permission to reopen in Toronto on March 22 — were forced to shutter again after only two weeks of operation when the entire province was put under new "emergency brake" shutdown rules.

Newly-hired or re-hired staff had to be let go. Inventory, bought to satisfy demand for outdoor patio dining was wasted. Patio winterization efforts had already long gone to waste, but anything additional that restaurants had done to make customers comfortable this spring was rendered useless.

"When provincial and municipal health officials encouraged restaurants to reopen for patio dining in Grey-Lockdown areas, they did so in recognition of the lower risk of transmission in outdoor spaces and the need for options to support mental health and well-being," reads the Restaurants Canada / ORHMA letter.

"By turning around less than two weeks later to reverse this decision, while allowing other industries to continue indoor operations, your government has needlessly undercut confidence in the restaurant industry."

Published Tuesday, the letter contains a list of immediate actions that the government could take to help "reverse the devastating impacts of dining closures" on affected Ontario businesses.

They are as follows:

  • For public health measures to be fair and effective, all industries must be impacted equally.
  • Patio dining should remain available as an alternative to private gatherings, as safe options for enjoying outdoor activities are important for people's mental health.
  • All restaurants should be supported financially to mitigate rising debt by:
    • Further funding through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant program and an amendment to the rules to ensure every foodservice establishment is able to receive funding.
    • A sector-specific program for covering reopening/closure costs such as wasted inventory, staffing costs, patio setup/takedown, etc.
    • An expansion of the property tax and energy cost rebate programs to include all foodservice businesses that have been impacted by Red-Control level restrictions.
    • An immediate end to the 6 per cent markup that restaurants pay to buy alcohol from the LCBO.

With even further restrictions now looming in hot spot regions like Toronto, Peel and York, it's unlikely that patios will reopen any time soon.

"It kills me to cut off the outdoor dining, it does. I'm getting calls, my phone's blowing up, and my heart breaks for these people," said Ford last Thursday at a press conference announcing the newest shutdown.

Let's see how much farther he goes beyond current government support measures for bars and restaurants to prove that.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim


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