Eating a meal on a makeshift outdoor patio in the middle of a restaurant parking lot was a common scene during the pandemic and the City of Richmond is considering making outdoor patios a permanent fixture as COVID-19 restrictions lift in B.C.
"The program has been a real success during COVID and it's made us realize this is something we should be doing anyhow," said Coun. Carol Day.
The city's Temporary Outdoor Patio (TOP) permit was first approved in May 2020 and was extended twice. It is set to expire on June 1, 2022.
Earlier this month, council unanimously voted to extend the TOP permits until June 2023 while the city looks into introducing a new permanent program. That includes patios on public property, like parking lots, and on private property.
Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced April 7 that the province is extending its pandemic liquor licensing rules for patios until March 31, 2023, to give municipalities to update their policies.
Day said Richmond has also decided to reduce patio application and renewal fees to approximately $300 from $2,400, but more changes will need to be made before city council approve a permanent program.
"I can't even think of any complaints because all of the neighbourhoods and the other stores and shops adjacent to these outdoor patios are happy. I think it's a win-win situation for everyone," she said.
Not everyone wants a patio
Jade Seafood Restaurant owner and head of the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, David Chung says eating outside is not appealing to a lot of Chinese people, citing cultural reasons.
"This is not street food," Chung said. "Chinese restaurants are so different because people hardly have any drinks, it's different clientele and they eat elaborately, they eat more things and the focus is on the food."
Chung said many Chinese dishes are meant to be eaten hot and taking it out to the patio cools the food too quickly.
"Eating on a patio outside with a small table doesn't work well for Chinese food and then there's the wind and other elements. It's not something that Chinese people would like to come to for lunch or dinner," he added.
"It's just different culture altogether."
Adjusting after restrictions
An outdoor patio wasn't something Zhengwen Hao — the owner of Hao's Lamb Restaurant — had planned to keep after COVID-19 restrictions lifted, but he's interested in participating in the permanent patio program.
"If the city allows, I'm on board with this policy," Hao said.
"To make this idea better, more complete, I want the city to work with businesses according to their requirements, because the pandemic is gradually improving and customers may want new experiences and maybe more outdoor dining."
He'd like to set up a dedicated skewer grill outside, for example, along with a small fridge for side dishes and beer.
"This is how we would really be able to make the patio program work for my restaurant," he said.
"There are some restaurants who have suitable spaces for a patio, but the food they serve isn't suitable. But I feel if the local government can proactively use this dining option to better support restaurants, it's a step in the right direction and a great program."
Coun. Chak Au said he voted to support the extension of the temporary patio program as local businesses felt like it helped alleviate some of their stresses during the pandemic, but he has some concerns about making the program permanent.
"We are responding to public interest and demand," Au said, "but I have two concerns. I think it's easy to accept [the program] when it was temporary, but I think it may affect people more if it goes permanent," said Au.
He said he's concerned about how permanent patios will affect traffic, especially in areas like Steveston, and how many Chinese restaurants will apply for the permanent program.
"We have some traffic studies completed and more than 78 per cent of people supported using some kind of space for an outdoor patio, but the survey was done during the pandemic," Au said, "and I think we need to look at the long term effects."