Starting tomorrow, one of the city’s longest running fine-dining institutions, Scaramouche, opens its doors to the public for the first time since March.
The much-anticipated milestone of entering phase 3 has finally arrived for Toronto, and as of Friday, July 31, restaurants have been allowed to reopen for modified indoor service. However, as many of Toronto’s most beloved establishments have been fully shut down since March, reopening under guidelines of distanced dining at half capacity brings a new set of challenges to the industry.
“We’ve been doing our best to be ready at any point and time over the last six weeks,” says Carl Korte, partner at Scaramouche, a 40-year mainstay in fine dining. “But, we decided to skip a week in case there were further developments. In several markets, restaurants have opened and then closed again and we’re erring on the side of caution. None of us in this business can afford to close and reopen.”
This balancing act of opening in a timely yet effective manner is a familiar struggle to many in the industry. Jen Agg, the powerhouse behind Toronto’s Grey Gardens and Bar Vendetta, has also announced that despite wanting to open as soon as possible, they won’t be opening indoor spaces for at least a few more weeks due to safety concerns.
Scaramouche’s official opening date for modified indoor dining is currently set for Aug. 7, exactly one week after the city’s official phase 3 reopening date. The team has been busy sanitizing fabrics, installing plexiglass barriers, and redesigning the dining room so that distancing protocols are adhered to during service.
“Our biggest issues right now are capacity and the extra costs of the safety protocols,” Korte says. “It all makes sense, and we’ve set our dining room up to be safe and spacious, but it’s going to be a challenging year. We’ll see half our level of business if you just do the math.”
Of course, reservations are the name of the game when it comes to easing back into indoor dining, as capacity issues will be a constant concern. DaiLo, a popular Toronto spot for French-Cantonese cuisine, is asking patrons to plan ahead if they opt for indoor service, while patio service remains available for walk-ins. Others, such as Gusto 501, Janet Zuccarini’s newest trattoria, are accepting both walk-ins and reservations for indoor and outdoor dining.
But, while restaurants like Scaramouche are doing what they can on their end, the question of how many Torontonians are ready to dine indoors—and what that means for restaurants staying afloat throughout phase 3—still looms.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what the demand issues will be,” says Korte. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how customers will re-engage the restaurant world. I hope it’s with strength and enthusiasm but I’m sure there’s some reticence out there. So the next big step is finding out what the demand will be, and responding accordingly.”