Your favourite new patio may have just disappeared as restaurants reject cost of city’s new cafe permits

Next month, Toronto restaurants and bars will usher in the start of patio season with the return of the CaféTO program, but according to an announcement from the city, hundreds of fewer businesses will be taking part this year.

In a statement released on Thursday, the city said that approximately 500 businesses had submitted applications for curbside patios for the season which runs from mid-May until October.

“I look forward to seeing hundreds of restaurants and bars taking part in the improved CaféTO program this year,” said Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie.  “With warmer weather on the way, we are committed to being ready for patio season, including providing accessible and equitable outdoor dining spaces that continue to animate and revitalize our main streets.”

Over the last few years, as businesses have struggled to stay open, they city’s CaféTO opened up Toronto’s city streets to local restaurants, adding outdoor dining and additional space for spots struggling to operate during the harshest COVID-19 restrictions. Many patrons enjoyed street dining, commonly seen in other countries like Europe.

In 2022, the city issued 837 curbside patio permits, resulting in approximately 15,000 metres of closed curb lanes, marking a considerable drop in the number of restaurants and bars that are participating this year.

While the city waived fees for participating businesses in its first three years, this year will see the introduction of a slew of permit fees which will be phased in over the next three years with the full amount of be charged in 2025. Permits will be set at $14.56 per square metre for sidewalk patios, and $43.70 per square metre for curb lane patios. Additional changes also require businesses to install accessible platforms — which they have until August to do.

While CaféTO applications numbers significantly declined from previous years, the number is still quite strong  — according to the Toronto Star, city staff initially projected applications would fall to 400 this year instead, 501 were received. But for some business owners, the program is just not plausible.

“A business on King Street might be doing the volume where they don’t care about the added fees,” says Vito Marinuzzi, owner of 7Numbers Restaurant. ” But I can’t do it for this kind of money, it just doesn’t generate that much.”