Toronto restaurants reintroduce lunch in hopes that industry luck has improved
The last two years have robbed us of so many food-related dining experiences that it’s almost difficult to remember what dining out looked like pre-2020.
But things appear to be finally turning around for Toronto's restaurant industry which had endured endless challenges related to operating a business during a pandemic and its related restrictions.
After a long hiatus, a handful of local restaurants are bringing back their popular lunch services much to the delight of hungry customers.
Unlike spaces that focus on midday operations, it's a service that few places have opted to do since many dining rooms are still trying to reach a regular rhythm - but these dinner-focused restaurants are gambling that Toronto is ready to head back out to lunch.
Take veteran trattoria Tutti Matti on Adelaide, for example. The downtown space has been serving Italiano classics for lunch and dinner for 20 years.
While their dinner service returned immediately after safety measures were lifted to permit indoor dining, they've only recently started to offer lunch service.
"There's been a lot of discussions if downtown would ever be the same. After discussing with other businesses in the neighbour, we decided on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for lunch," owner and chef Alida Solomon tells blogTO.
The lunch schedule has been tricky to nail down as return-to-officers pick and choose what days they commute to their offices.
But as Solomon and her team come in every single day for dinner, she says it makes sense to prep for lunch as well, as everybody is already working.
Before 2020 Tutti Matti had groups of regular customers coming in for both lunch and dinner. It's something Solomon hopes will happen again soon.
With the steady crowd already streaming in for midday meals, she's already noticed a quaint change in customer behaviour.
"It's nice to listen to the [clients] banter and people interacting with each other. In the old days, people would have work lunches; now it's more of social interaction," she said.
This would be a welcome change in the area since not everybody has returned for lunch. According to Solomon, the only other option is a sushi restaurant across the street which is nearly impossible to order from before 1 p.m. because they're already clogged with orders.
Another popular restaurant (and a favourite of Solomon's for a quick bite) is Le Select Bistro on Wellington. The iconic space is now under new ownership and had just revived its classic lunch.
However, it wasn't until the kitchen and staff had absolutely nailed down the dinner service that the business considered offering lunch.
"As we were running the business in September, October and November, we saw a huge demand from people wanting to come for lunch," said Hanif Harji, CEO of Scale Hospitality.
With customers calling in to make lunch reservations that weren't being offered, Harji and the team decided to bring back lunch with a smaller menu. The options allow diners to pick from bistro favourites including sandwiches, soups and salads, all served in classic Le Select fashion.
"Our approach hasn’t changed one bit. It’s quality first," said Harji.
It's not just downtown restaurants that have brought back midday service. Bloor West favourite Sugo has also been dishing up lunchtime eats for an additional reason.
The owners of the quaint no-fuss joint wanted to make sure staff had enough hours throughout the week as the pizzeria continues with renovations next door.
"While the renovations are happening we wanted to make sure everyone had enough hours, so we decided to open for three lunch services a week and see how they go," Conor Joerin, co-owner of Sugo tells blogTO.
They're now open for lunch on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays but that doesn't mean it'll stop there. blogTO is told that more are always possible, as is the return to six days of lunch service.
Though it's only a few restaurants that have taken the jump into these services, both Harji and Solomon are positive it's a trend you'll see in the industry.
"Restaurants have a purpose in Toronto and lunching in Toronto has been super hard but it's part of that," says Solomon.
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