Lengthy approval process for CaféTO program results in huge financial losses: restaurant owner
A Toronto restaurant owner who takes part in the city's CaféTO program says the length of time it's taking to get approved to participate in the program results in huge financial losses.
Cherrie Stinson says after submitting an application on March 29, the approval only arrived this weekend.
Even with the approval, which Stinson said she received via email, she still does not know when she can start installing a patio.
"The next steps are something to the fact that we have to first send our insurance to the city, and then the second step is to pay for the application, and then we will receive another email as to when the traffic people are going to be reviewing our patio again," Stinson told CBC Toronto .
She said the traffic department will come in and install concrete barriers, after which they will be able to set up.
"But there's no date or time. It just says a couple weeks, which is like going into June, and it's nice out [right now].
Every day is a crazy day and it would be nice to have some notice, be able to prepare and understand when we will make that extra revenue, but we obviously don't have an idea. - Cherrie Stinson, restaurant owner
CaféTO allows restaurants and bars to open expanded outdoor spaces on sidewalks and in curb lanes from spring to fall. It was introduced in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions on indoor dining.
A study funded by the city estimated that CaféTO generated more than $203 million in economic benefits in 2022, with more than 1,300 businesses taking part. A November 2022 city survey of hundreds of restaurant owners and businesses adjacent to patios, as well as more than 7,000 members of the general public, found solid support for the program.
"One good thing from COVID was the fact that Toronto finally allowed us to spread our wings onto the street and give energy to the city," Stinson said.
"Unfortunately, it's just very unorganized it seems and we like to prepare things in the restaurant business … every day is a crazy day and it would be nice to have some notice, be able to prepare and understand when we will make that extra revenue, but we obviously don't have an idea.
"And then this year we have to pay for it of course, so the longer they take, the less profit we make by them dragging their heels," she added.
Stinson said she wants to take part in the program because "it does create lots more revenue for us, by having the extra patio. I'd like to take advantage of the weather and it would be nice if it was quicker."
According to Stinson, missing out on the Mother's Day weekend and the upcoming Victoria Day weekend will result in "huge" losses for her business.
"We have to hire extra people in the kitchen and when we don't have the revenue to pay for those extra people — servers and culinary staff — it's basically like we have to pay them," she said.
"We have to train them before this busy season and when there's no patio ready then we don't necessarily need them, but we have to keep them because it's going to be crazy. But it would be nice to have this all planned. It's not just planning to build a patio. It's staffing and all types of things."
City 'still fairly on target,' BIA manager says
Meg Marshall, manager of the Queen Street West BIA, said people are "really excited by the weather" and "are chomping at the bit."
"[People] want to either have their patios up or go and patronize the patio. So, there's that excitement in the air, which is amazing," Marshall said.
But she said because the CaféTO program is now permanent, the city has to take more due diligence in making sure that every site or every applicant meets the feasibility requirements.
"They can't be as flexible or as lenient as they were with other situations in previous years," Marshall said.
"So, it could be permanent parking spaces have to be taken into consideration, proximity to hydro vault, turning radius from corners and intersections. There's lots of different technical things that most people don't necessarily take note of or would understand per se. So, things are taking a lot longer than we had hoped."
Marshall said the city is "still fairly on target," adding that the program usually starts around the May 2-4 weekend.
"I think the city is moving as fast as it can knowing that there's different departments that have to be involved as part of the feasibility assessment," she said.
"Whenever we get a nice stretch of weather, the excitement obviously builds and everyone just wants to be out there. It's a beautiful weekend right now so we all wish we were out there on a patio … We just have to, unfortunately, be a little bit more patient and we'll get our patio sooner than later, I think. But we just have to be patient a little bit longer."
More than 500 applications, city says
Meanwhile, the city of Toronto says it has received more than 500 applications from restaurant and bar owners and operators for CaféTO curb-lane cafés this year.
"Staff are working hard to review all applications as quickly as possible and are contacting businesses in sequential order about their curb-lane café permit areas now," said Alex Burke, a media relations officer.
"The installation of traffic safety equipment city-wide is a process that takes several weeks and some restaurants will receive their curb-lane closure equipment and café permits before others, similar to previous years."
According to Burke, the city anticipates that the application process will be quicker for returning CaféTO applicants in future years as curb-lane café permits will be renewable using previously approved designs and plans.
Burke said installation of approved CaféTO curb-lane café locations will begin on May 15 and continue through June.