Patios not enough, need full reopening, Danforth eateries say

Expanding patios might bring extra revenue to the Danforth Avenue restaurants, but full reopening is still imperative, owners say.

“Patios are not really going to help restaurants,” said Jose Salgado, chef-owner of Tapas at Embrujo restaurant. “They need to be open inside, and that’s the key thing.” 

As of June 24, Toronto restaurants have reopened outdoor patios for dine-in customers, taking all the necessary precautions. The city has also launched a CafeTO program that aims to temporarily install outside dining areas or expand existing patios.

According to CafeTO, restaurants that are qualified for the program will be able to expand available outdoor seatings on the sidewalk or in front of a neighbouring property on the pavement. Dining establishments without a frontage café will be able to install a new patio on the curb lane or sidewalk. 

Patio expansion plan
NEW PATIO SPACE: CafeTO determines the style of the patio most suitable for restaurants and their locations.

These innovations will help dining establishments gradually dive into the summer season before they can enter Stage 3.

But some restaurant owners say it will not bring enough income to compensate for the damage caused by COVID-19.

Salgado said all profits his family-run restaurant has been making throughout the pandemic were given to his landlord.

He said the expanded patio would bring some revenue, but it does not cover the rent fully.

“It just adds on a little bit to what we do for take-out. Unfortunately, it won’t help restaurants cover their rent costs,” Salgado said.

He compared Toronto restaurants with big malls that allow a limited number of buyers to shop at once. 

In his words, dining establishments can also reopen, following the same safety precautions.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a million or 50 people in the city — we’re still dealing with the same [restaurant] capacity.”

Factory Girl owner George Markakos expressed the same concern, adding people have become used to the COVID-19 environment.

“They now know how to behave, unlike when the virus first started,” he said. “And I think they can act properly in restaurants as well.”

Markakos said that eventually, the expenses of keeping dining establishments closed, including rent, would exceed the costs of reopening.

Factory Girl’s owner also said that he would not benefit much from the program because it will add only two tables to his front patio due to the restaurant’s location.

“It would only bring two extra tables of two, following the social distancing rules and the allotted space,” Markakos said. 

“Two tables are exactly something I would call better than nothing, but not much better. We are not paying our bills with two more tables,” he said.

People are sitting at the Factory Girl patio.
OUTDOOR DINING: An expanded patio might bring some revenue, which is crucial amid the COVID-19 crisis, says Factory Girl owner George Markakos.

Crystal Parussis, who runs Pantheon Restaurant with her family, said she feels positive about patio expansion because it will add four extra tables.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the restaurant significantly since they decided to close it for the first two weeks of quarantine, she said. After that they continued to generate revenue through takeout orders.

“It’s been difficult,” Parussis said. “We’re used to having the restaurant full and busy. But we’re very thankful that we have very good customers, and they always come back.

She said they reopened the patio on the first day when the province allowed to do so.

“Now it’s better and busier with the patio. It helped us just a bit, but it’s not like everything was back to normal.”

A server at Pantheon restaurant sets Saganaki appetizer on fire to entertain guests in the patio.
HOT SPOT: Pantheon’s patio, which was reopened June 24, helps the restaurant remain busy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When they opened the outdoor dining, the main challenge restaurant owners had to address was social distancing.

“We have a small patio. Before, you could fit about 18 to 20 guests,” Parussis said. “Right now, we only have half of it. So, with the restrictions, we can fit about 12 at most,”

She does not believe additional tables will bring significant revenue but said the crucial goal during the pandemic is to remain open and return employees to work.

“I don’t think that profiting is the most important thing right now, as opposed to staying open and bringing the staff back.”

Parussis said that gradual reopening that starts with outdoor patios is “the right move.”

Like other restaurant owners, she thinks that dining establishments are ready to slowly reopen inside under strict safety regulations.

“I believe it is safe to [eat in restaurants] as long as you’re taking precautions, such as keeping tables six feet apart, washing hands and disinfecting seatings and menus,” Parussis said.

She said opening restaurants at least 30 per cent of capacity would “definitely help everyone.”

“What’s the difference between going to Walmart and passing by many people and coming into a restaurant that has only 30-per cent capacity?”

Not safe to reopen

Since indoor the risk of transmitting COVID-19 is higher, Toronto restaurants still have to remain closed to prevent its spreading.

“There is less risk for COVID-19 to spread in outdoor settings than indoor settings,” Dubey said.

Moreover, when the province allows indoor dining, customers will be required to wear masks except when they eat, which means transmission is still possible, said Toronto Public Health  spokesperson Dr. Vinita Dubey.

Comparing dining establishments with shopping malls, she said in an email that “dining in restaurants is still higher risk than shopping in malls” because “mask usage and physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

“We continue to advise the public to take precautions in all public settings and spaces, both indoors and outdoors,” Dubey said.