When Mayor Olivia Chow announced future CaféTO program plans on Oct. 16, she started with an apology to business owners for this year’s rollout.
CaféTO faced multiple problems this year, she told a press conference at Red Rocket Coffee on Danforth Avenue.
Issues include problems rolling out the program in time for the summer and the rejections of previously accepted applications.
City officials have now announced applicants for next summer’s program will know whether they have been accepted by Nov. 30 of this year. New applicants can register for CaféTO in January 2024.
‘It was a bit messy’
“This year council has made CaféTO a permanent program and I owe everyone that has applied to the CaféTO program an apology,” Chow said. “It was a bit messy. On behalf of the city: sorry about that. We said we are going to do better this yea, and we’re going to.”
The CaféTO program provides restaurants with access to public spaces, such as curb lanes and sidewalks, to expand their dining space during the summer months. It is obtained for a fee by an approved application.
Chow announced a timeline for opening the curb lanes, sidewalk cafes, and patios next year. Safety measures are to be put in place on May 1 and outdoor dining spaces would be ready and open by May 24 at the latest. Chow believes creating this timeline will hold the city accountable while limiting deviances from the plan.
The CaféTO program was launched in 2020 to aid businesses struggling through the pandemic. It was made permanent this year after the program’s financial success in the previous years.
The outdoor dining initiative generated more than $203 million in economic benefits in 2022, according to an economic impact study from the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA).
“The program has done a lot to support restaurants and it has protected jobs,” said Don Valley North Councillor Shelley Carroll, who is also vice-chair of the economic and community development committee. “There is no question that the hospitality sector has been very, very challenged and the CaféTO installation allows people not only to maintain jobs but in some cases take on more positions,”
Approximately 1,000 outdoor dining spaces delivered through the CaféTO program in 2023, the city reports.
The program gives businesses increased visibility and also improves the sidewalk and the streetscape in general, said Red rocket owner Bill Dertilis.
“So when there’s more foot traffic, and people enjoy the space more, we have the opportunity to drive more people into the store,” Dertillis said.
City staff began removing the safety measures for patios on Oct. 15 to prime the streets for winter.