Changes could be coming to Toronto's CaféTO program. Here is what staff are proposing.
Published Tuesday, January 24, 2023 2:34PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 24, 2023 3:30PM EST
Toronto's popular CaféTO program is going permanent, but businesses may have to shell out a bit more to take part starting this year.
A staff report set to be considered by Toronto City Council’s Executive Committee next week is recommending that the city reinstate a one-time application fee of $865, in addition to an annual permit fee.
According to city staff, that fee will run at around $1,449 for the average sidewalk cafe and about $3,077 for the average curbside cafe.
While the city took a zoned approach to fees for sidewalk and curbside cafes in the past, charging more for high-demand areas such as the downtown core, the report recommends that the city harmonize the fees, adopting the pricing of the lowest zone across-the-board.
Business owners would also have to pay to construct a platform patio to make the cafes level with the sidewalk. Staff say the move will make the cafes accessible without temporary ramps that were unpopular with the disabled community and which sometimes obstructed the pathway for cyclists.
On average last year, it cost about $13,870 to construct a patio, which can be used year after year. However there are federal grants of up to $7,500 available to businesses in 2023 to help offset those costs.
A city grant is also available to Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) to support planter maintenance and curb lane closure design.
While restaurants and other businesses got a break on some of the fees over the last couple of years in recognition of the fact that they had been struck hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, city staff say the latest proposed rules look to strike a balance in terms of using public space for private interests.
“Together, these recommendations aim to advance the transition of CaféTO from a temporary emergency response initiative for the hospitality sector into a sustainable program that makes Toronto's streets more attractive, safe and accessible; supports the needs of both café operators and other businesses; and balances diverse uses of the right of way and curbside area,” the report states.
While businesses will have to pay more to take part, the city is still chipping in $1.4 million to subsidize permit fees for the program in 2023, with fees only covering about 68 per cent of the municipality’s costs.
The city’s subsidy of the program, staff said, recognizes that Toronto residents want a vibrant public space, a “robust cafe culture” and that the program stimulates economic activity.
A report by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas found that the program delivered $203 million in economic benefits to Toronto in 2022, and that CaféTO diners spent an estimated $179 million on patios from May through September.
Reinstating fees is also one way to make sure that businesses which don't plan to make strong use of temporary cafés don't end up occupying public space without delivering a benefit. City staff say that they removed more than 100 cafés last year for lack of use.
The CaféTO program was originally designed to help restaurants and bars who were struggling to stay alive amid COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining in 2020. The program, which allows businesses to use sidewalks and curb space for outdoor seating, proved popular with the public, livening up outdoor spaces around the city in the warmer months.
Some 801 businesses took part in the first year, growing to 1,327 in 2022.
The report from city staff said that they expect 400 applications for new curb-lane cafés in 2023.
The report will go before the city’s Executive Committee on Jan. 31 before going to city council on Feb. 7.