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Toronto could have a lot fewer patios this summer as costs skyrocket for CafeTO program

Toronto city staff released a report on Tuesday laying out recommendations for the CafeTO program, and it looks like business owners might have to shell out more money to participate. 

The proposed changes will see the transition of the program from a temporary emergency response to a sustainable and permanent initiative. 

The new fees proposed by city staff include a one-time application fee of $865, and an annual permit fee based on the individual sidewalk or curb lane patio.

Based on the report, this fee will be around $1,449 for the average sidewalk cafe and $3,077 for the average curbside cafe. 

According to the report, patios in a curb lane must be built on a platform for accessibility, which could cost $14,000 on average to build.

With its recommendations, the city is expecting 400 curb lane cafes and 500 sidewalk cafes, with permit fees generating about $2.5 million. 

The CafeTO program was introduced in 2020 to allow restaurants and bars to expand their outdoor spaces amid lockdowns that led to restrictions on indoor dining. Over the life of the program, the City has provided $20 million in financial support. 

A 2022 economic impact study from the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) found that CafeTO diners spent about $179 million on patios from May through September, and delivered $203 million in economic benefits to Toronto. 

A total of 1,327 establishments across the city took advantage of CafeTO in 2022, 1,213 in 2021, and 801 in 2020. 

Two grants for small businesses and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) will continue in 2023, including the CafeTO Improvement Program, which will match 50 per cent of the cost of eligible patio space improvements up to a maximum of $7,500.

The City's BIA CafeTO grant program will also support planter maintenance and curb lane closure design, with BIAs eligible to receive up to $5,000. 

The staff report is set to go before the city's Executive Committee on Jan. 31, before going to city council on Feb. 7.

However, with the possibility of extra fees, many restaurants in Toronto may choose to pass on the program this year, meaning less patio spaces to enjoy this summer season. 

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim

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