Indoor dining ban kickstarts Calgary temporary patio season

·3 min read
Trolley 5 was one of Calgary's first restaurants to open an expanded sidewalk patio last May. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
Trolley 5 was one of Calgary's first restaurants to open an expanded sidewalk patio last May. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

Calgary restaurants were already building up their patios to contend pandemic health rules when tighter restrictions were announced last week, giving them added incentive.

Last year, the City of Calgary responded to COVID-19 measures by allowing restaurant seating to spill onto the sidewalks. Pedestrians were rerouted onto the street to help expand seating capacity.

The province's new health restrictions — which went into effect Friday — ban indoor dining but allow seating patrons outdoors, which means patios are essential for Calgary's businesses.

Locking down again was a blow, Marda Loop Brewing Company owner Mike de Jonge said. But it was something he and others in the industry were bracing for — as they watched restrictions come down in British Columbia and Ontario.

In Alberta, he said, there was a silver lining: patios.

"It's our third time, and the back and forth is getting tough to deal with," de Jonge said. "I was actually optimistic and happy and relieved in a way when they said, 'Yeah, you're going to be closed on the inside, but we're going to allow you to have your patio.'"

De Jonge said setting up an extended patio means he has an extra 10 distanced picnic tables, so he can keep staff working through the third wave.

"It's a big value add and that's just for one small local business," de Jonge said. "I can only imagine what some of the larger establishments on 17th, 10th, and 8th are feeling right now. They're probably quite happy to have all those employees come back."

Elaborate but temporary

There's a little competition happening between restaurants, JF Gingras said. He owns Dealtwith Contracting, a restaurant repair and maintenance company.

Last year, business owners were scrambling to slap patios together at the last minute. But this year, Gingras said he's had requests for affordable but more elaborate builds.

He thinks clients see this as a way to stand out and draw in patrons.

"With any good restaurant, you know, you get influenced by the look, the esthetics of the menu, the dining room," Gingras said. "They want to match what the effort that's been done inside and try to incorporate this outside, even though it's temporary."

Patio heaters are in demand as restaurants, cafés, breweries and pubs look to extend their patio season beyond summer months.
Patio heaters are in demand as restaurants, cafés, breweries and pubs look to extend their patio season beyond summer months.(Helen Pike/CBC)

The roads department is in full swing, installing the temporary patio infrastructure ramps and barriers so pedestrians can reroute around the businesses. Requests for patios started rolling in at the end of February, beginning of March.

The city's Sonya Sharp said patio requests have surged, so the city added a queuing system to ensure those who requested their patio months ago are first in line to keep things fair.

"What we have to underline is just how much of a priority we've made this for our restaurant owners," said Sharp, who is the leader of the city's business and local economy team. "The City of Calgary planning and roads department, they really had to pivot and make sure that we got on top of the restrictions being changed on us very quickly and allowed this industry to continue to thrive during the third wave."

The high-visibility orange barriers are back, but Sharp noted that once the city deals with this influx of patio requests, it may look at planters and other ways to make the barriers a little more esthetically pleasing.

Last year, the city put up 116 patios. So far, this year's requests are at more than 140 patios with 60 or so already in place.

Fees for these temporary patios were waived again this year. The city will also waive fees for private patios.

Patio installations could finish by the end of April, depending on demand, Sharp said.