If you think it’s outrageous that some fancy restaurants in Toronto won’t serve you sans blazer, consider this: many culinary bottom-feeders won’t serve you without a car.
Yes, if you happen to be a pedestrian, cyclist, non-sighted or for whatever reason can’t drive yourself around, late-night drive-through restaurants are going to make it damn near impossible for you to eat.
I find this out one Friday night near King and Dufferin, when I’m contemplating a visit to McDonald’s or Burger King. Both are far from ideal fare, but facing an empty stomach and fridge, I take that shameful stroll.
The two are closed to eat-in traffic, but the drive-throughs are eagerly ready to serve 24 hours a day. McDonald’s is full of cars, so I walk up to the BK window, whose car lane is vacant, and politely ask if I can buy a Whopper.
“No,” says the young woman in the window. “We can’t serve you without a car.”
So there I stand, alone in the parking lot, asking why and getting only the standard “It’s our policy” and a finger pointing to a sticker that says pedestrians don’t qualify for evening service. Rejected for lack of a vehicle.
“Get in a cab and come back,” suggests the unsympathetic employee, in clear contravention of the King’s “Have it your way” urgings.
When I call back during the day, the Burger King manager says they have to following instructions but can’t elaborate on why. It’s not really her fault; she’s just taking orders from headquarters, which did not respond to calls placed over several days. Same story from the Canadian head office of McDonald’s. That is, lack of story.
At least Toronto isn’t completely drive-through-friendly. In response to a 2002 battle between St. Clair residents and a McDonald’s drive-through expansion, the city created urban design guidelines for these planning monstrosities.
“It became a rallying cry,” says the planning division’s Klaus Lehmann, who created the drive-through zoning bylaw.
The 2005 guidelines are an evolution of the Official Plan and make many good suggestions for incorporating drive-throughs in neighbourhoods – like clear pedestrian walkways, benches, peaceful spots and planters. But they don’t ban them.
The only restaurant that doesn’t balk at my late-night request is the McDonald’s near Queen and Coxwell.
I call during the day to find out its policy, and the manager takes my name and says to call ahead and let the night manager know I’m coming by. “Just make sure you let her know ahead of time so she doesn’t get scared,” the manager says.
No, it’s not ideal, and the thought of being added to a McDonald’s guest list is hilarious, but at least folks here do a little creative embellishment of the policy.
The fact is, we’re stuck with these ’burban hangovers. The city says it has no power to retroactively impose a remake of these outlets. “Unfortunately,’’ says Lehmann, “they’ve all been designed in accordance with previous bylaws. There were a lot of cases where things were just rammed in.”
Intro on why the city got involved:
Path of suburban/urban drive throughs:
At least drive throughs are on the city's radar: