Toronto wants to make CaféTO permanent and year-round

The outdoor dining spaces that popped up during the pandemic could be here to stay


City staff are recommending that Toronto make the sidewalk and curb-lane patio program CaféTO permanent.

Introduced during the pandemic in 2020 as a way to help struggling restaurants and bars stay afloat amid lockdown and physical distancing restrictions, the outdoor dining program could also become year-round.

In a report that will go before the executive committee next week, city staff recommend bringing CaféTO back in 2022, creating a new registration program and making some of the outdoor patios permanent through a phased approached.

The criteria for sidewalk and curb-lane patios would be different, as the latter must be removed in the fall to make way for snow clearing while the former can operate all winter. Toronto also created public “parklets” to host the expanded CaféTO patios.

“The new, permanent process would be fast and streamlined and, if approved, restaurant operators will only need to apply once for year-round expanded sidewalk cafes,” the city said in a statement. “Currently, existing temporary CaféTO sidewalk cafes can remain in place and available through the winter until April 14, 2022.”

If the proposal, which is endorsed by Mayor John Tory, is approved at executive committee it will go before city council on November 9 and 10.

If it passes at council, temporary curb-lane patios would return on a seasonal basis in May 2022 under the same rules and regulations from this year and run through November 2022.

However, the city would develop new criteria that would allow for the “permanent, seasonal use of curb-lane cafes by 2023.

“This approach will help keep the program as flexible as possible in order to allow for adjustments related to potential changes to the food service industry, as well as changes to traffic patterns and street uses as a result of pandemic recovery over the coming year,” the city said.

Toronto conducted a public survey of restaurant operators and the general public to get feedback on the patio program. Of the more than 10,000 respondents, 91 per cent believed the sidewalk and curb-lane cafes should be allowed in the future.

The city says the patios were more popular in 2021 than in 2020, with more than 1,200 restaurants launching outdoor dining spaces in curb lanes and on sidewalks – a 51 per cent increase. This year’s closures amounted to more than 12 linear kilometres of public space.

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