Restaurant industry group urges Ford government to reopen patios during shutdown

A waiter talks with patrons at a patio in Yorkville in Toronto, on Friday, June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Two organizations representing restaurants and workers in the food service industry are calling on the Ford government to reverse its decision to close patios around the province as part of a one-month provincewide shutdown.

On Tuesday, Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association published an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, urging the province to provide more support for struggling restaurants and reopen patio dining as a “safe alternative” to private gatherings.

“When provincial and municipal health officials encouraged restaurants to reopen for patio dining in Grey-Lockdown areas, they did so in recognition of the lower risk of transmission in outdoor spaces and the need for options to support mental health and well-being,” the letter read.

“By turning around less than two weeks later to reverse this decision, while allowing other industries to continue indoor operations, your government has needlessly undercut confidence in the restaurant industry.”

According to the group, the “abrupt move to shut down all dining” soon after easing restrictions cost Ontario restaurants more than $100 million.

Last week, the Ford government announced a four-week provincewide shutdown in an effort to curb coronavirus cases amid a third wave of the pandemic.

Daily case counts have hovered around the 3,000 mark for the past several days in Ontario as more transmissible COVID-19 variants continue to circulate widely.

Many experts, including the top public health doctors in Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa, have said that the restrictions implemented by the province as part of the new lockdown do not go far enough to bring new cases and hospitalizations down.

While restaurants and gyms have been forced to close, non-essential retail stores and malls are still open for in-person shopping and schools also remain open throughout most of the province.

“This is not an ‘emergency brake:’ as evidenced by the crowded retail stores and plentiful private gatherings over the weekend, scapegoating the restaurant sector is clearly not going to get the province’s third wave under control,” the letter from Restaurants Canada read.

The group called on the province to come up with a sector-specific program for covering costs associated with reopening and closing, including wasted inventory, staffing, and patio setup/takedown.

They also urged the province to make more funding available through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant Program.

“Unfortunately, we are not all in this together. In a year when so many others have continued to receive their full pay, and some industries thrived during the pandemic, those in the restaurant sector have never worked harder and lost so much through no fault of their own,” the letter read.

“Restaurants provide a safe alternative to private gatherings and should be supported in their efforts to do so.”