Toronto staff report recommends changes to help make CafeTO permanent

City staff said in a new report Tuesday that they expect even more restaurants to apply for CafeTO permits in 2023. Last year, more than 1,300 businesses took part in the program. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
City staff said in a new report Tuesday that they expect even more restaurants to apply for CafeTO permits in 2023. Last year, more than 1,300 businesses took part in the program. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Toronto city staff released a report Tuesday laying out recommendations for how the popular CaféTO program could work going forward, but the possible changes mean business owners would pay thousands in permitting fees each year.

CaféTO, which allows restaurants and bars to open expanded outdoor spaces on sidewalks and in curb lanes from spring to fall, was introduced in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions on indoor dining. The city has so far covered costs of administering the program to the tune of more than $20 million.

The new charges proposed by staff would recoup some of those costs and be harmonized with patio-related fees that predate the pandemic. They would include a one-time $865 application fee, as well as an annual permit fee based on the size of an individual sidewalk or curb lane patio.

Staff calculated that restaurant operators would pay, on average, $1,449 in annual fees for a sidewalk patio or about $3,007 for a curb lane patio.

During a technical briefing for media, representatives from the city said the fees are necessary to ensure CaféTO is financially sustainable over time. They would generate revenue of more than $1 million this year, but that is still only enough money to cover about 68 per cent of the program's total annual administrative costs, staff said.

The fees are not unusual. Any time public space is used for private enterprise, there is a permitting charge, staff added.

Bylaw changes recommended

Staff also recommended changing city bylaws to require any curb lane patios to be built upon a platform, with railings, level to the sidewalk. The proposed change is meant to make the installations more accessible, staff said, and was included after extensive consultation with accessibility advocates. In past years, restaurant owners could provide only a temporary ramp.

The revised bylaws would also include provisions meant to enforce an aesthetic standard for the patios.

At the briefing, staff said the platforms cost, on average, nearly $14,000 to build, but can be re-used year after year. A federal development grant can cover up to $7,500 of that cost, but the program expires in March 2024.

Staff also say that the annual window for the temporary patios should be shortened by 61 days, running from May 15 to Oct. 15, rather than April 15 to Nov. 15.

Tory calls program a 'success story'

The report is scheduled to go before the executive committee on Jan 31. If approved, it will be considered by council on February 7.

"CaféTO is a success story for our hospitality industry, and has enhanced the look and feel of our city. As we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, proposed changes will make CaféTO more sustainable for years to come," Mayor John Tory said in the news release.

Tory has previously said he would support making the program permanent, which city staff recommended in an October 2021 report.

A study funded by the city estimated that CaféTO generated more than $203 million in economic benefits in 2022, with more than 1,300 businesses taking part.

A November 2022 public survey by the city that included feedback from hundreds of restaurant owners and owners of businesses adjacent to patios, as well as more than 7,000 members of the general public, found solid support for the program. Results of the survey are summarized in the report.

You can read the full staff report here.