‘In the trenches’: Toronto restaurants without patios struggling, customers hesitant to dine indoors

TORONTO — Without a patio, reopening has been “borderline devastating” for Mike Beck, owner and chef of The Kingston Social House in Scarborough.

“It’s been a rough go without a patio. When you have a pandemic that people feel safer outside, it’s kind of hard to encourage people to come inside, no matter how good our food is, no matter how good our service is,” Beck said.

Ontario entered Step 3 of its economic reopening plan in July, relaxing restaurant restrictions to permit indoor and outdoor dining, while maintaining two meters of physical distance between tables. Regardless, some customers have been hesitant to venture inside.

Beck’s wood fired barbecue spot primarily caters to an older demographic, along with younger families, which Beck called “cautious groups” when it comes to eating indoors.

The Scarborough restaurant has a single table perched outside. A couple seated at the solo table over the weekend told Beck, even if there was a hurricane, they weren’t sitting inside.

Beck explored the CaféTO route of extending his outdoor capacity, but since the restaurant is located on a highway, adding tables wasn’t an option.

“Who knows how long I can carry on?” Beck said.

One Love Vegetarian is facing a similar struggle. Owner and chef Ikeila Wright said their sidewalk is too narrow and Bathurst Street is too busy to place patio-goers.

“We’re in the trenches,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the restaurant had an indoor communal table that fit eight to 10 people. Wright loved watching strangers meet and chat over her corn soup or barbecue tofu. But now, their policy is, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t eat here.”

“It’s like a movie, a thriller,” Wright said, “What’s going to happen next?”

Even for restaurants with small patios, business hasn’t bounced back to normal. At The 6ix Beer & Wings, owner Parth Bhatt said his bar is making about 60 to 70 per cent of what they did in pre-pandemic times.

Located in the Entertainment District, at Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street, much of the sports bar’s bread and butter was the lunchtime office crowd.

“We don’t know how long this is going to be,” Bhatt said. “I’m a bit scared.” 

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