Patio applications down as outdoor dining season ramps up in Calgary

Despite pandemic restrictions, businesses were able to get more out of patio season over the past two years, as the city allowed restaurants to take over sidewalks while dining rooms were restricted or closed. 

“Now it’s something people expect, you expect to go somewhere and sit out on a patio,” said Home and Away Event and Marketing Manager Allana Jalkotzy.

As indoor dining returns, the city has tweaked its patio guidelines to maintain streetside dining options, and allow for more accessibility on sidewalks. But some businesses say the changes came at an extra cost, and the process brought delays with it. 

Last year, the city issued 219 temporary patio permits. This year, the city only issued 95. 

According to the new rules, restaurants can’t just take up the sidewalk. Patios have to be curbside, allowing for pedestrian traffic to flow as it normally would. Because the patios are now on the road, the city requires restaurants to provide protective barriers. 

The city also allowed boardwalks that sit flush with the sidewalk and detour pedestrians around restaurant patios. Those can be seen along 17th Avenue and in Victoria Park. 

Erin Chrusch, leader of the business and local economy team at the City of Calgary said businesses are being cautious this year about jumping back into full swing with patios. 

“A lot of it’s because they don’t have the same kind of indoor dining restrictions or capacity restrictions that they did last year,” she said. “They’re taking a bit more of a wait-and-see approach as to whether that’s something they might pursue longer-term or next year.”

Chrusch said she’s also heard that because restaurants have to make investments in their own structures, for some it is an investment many are cautious about. 

“We faced some difficulties in the cost of what it was going to be for us,” said Home and Away’s Jalkotzy.

“We were able to band together with all of the buildings along 1st Street or at least a couple along here and get this boardwalk set up. Both compliant with the city’s guidelines and aesthetically pleasing.”

During the pandemic patios were on the sidewalk, rerouting pedestrians onto the street with construction barriers. (Helen Pike/CBC)

For patrons, the new look is better than pandemic pylons and construction barriers that used to line the streets. 

Between sips at Home and Away, Curtis Anderson says the uniform look of boardwalks makes the streets look classy. 

“I think Calgary has always been a patio culture city,” said Justin Holman, who was out for beer mimosas with friends. “I think now more than ever, it took COVID to get all of this done.” 

Alberta Hospitality Association members are telling president Ernie Tsu that policy and supply chain issues are affecting the ability to get the materials to set up patios meant delays. 

“There’s too much of a bureaucratic step process now,” Tsu said. “And with that type of delay and a huge part of the patio season gone, that’s revenue lost for restaurants.” 

Chrusch said the city is in the early stages of considering ways to support businesses with the cost of permanent patio infrastructure recognizing those tough startup costs. Especially, she added, after the financial strain of the pandemic. 

She said the city wants to help support street life culture.

“If that’s something that we can do, that would make it a bit easier for us to achieve the goal of a more vibrant streetscape in some of these areas, then it’s worth at least looking into,” Crusch said. 

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