The City of Victoria is planning to ask the province to extend provisions allowing restaurants to serve alcohol on temporary patios established during the pandemic, in hopes of giving local restaurants a chance to recoup some of the money lost during the last two years.
The provisions are set to expire June 1, but council is considering a motion today asking the province to extend them until Oct. 31.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the motion is about giving businesses some breathing room by appealing to the province to work with the city.
“It’ll also take the pressure off provincial staff, who I understand are having to process so many liquor permits right now, so it will give us and the province time to move forward in an orderly way,” said Helps.
“Let’s just extend this blanket provision of liquor licensing for a few more months, just to give businesses that are finally coming out of the pandemic a chance to serve their customers rather than fill out paperwork this summer.”
The city has already extended its temporary patio permitting provisions until the end of October.
Helps said the patios are here to stay. “Everyone loves the patios.”
Solomon Siegel, owner of Pagliacci’s restaurant on Broad Street, said patios have been “everything” for his eatery.
“The last two years have been this high-wire act, trying to figure out how to keep seating wherever we can. The city opening up that space outside not only meant that we could have a place for people to come where they felt comfortable, it also meant that we continued to hire, we could hire live music and even expand that program to keep musicians working and keep service working and keep cooks working.”
Siegel said while restaurants were given time to get their liquor licensing in order, they could use more, as the province has said it could take six or seven months to get a permanent extension of liquor licences.
“That’s the biggest problem for us right now,” he said, adding an extension would be a huge help in trying to avoid disrupting service on the patio.
Siegel said he’s optimistic the province will act, as there seems to be no resistance to maintaining or expanding the number of patios dotting the city.
“I think it’s something we all want, but there’s just a lot of bureaucracy to get through,” he said. “One of the nice things about COVID was we seemed to figure out ways around a lot of red tape very quickly.”
The province appears to be willing to be flexible with the deadline.
In a statement, the Ministry of Public Safety said the province has heard June is too soon for some licensees and local governments to get patio policies in place and applications submitted.
“Work is advancing to assist as some communities require more time,” it said.
Jeff Bray, chief executive of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said he backs the city on the need for an extension, which will allow more time for municipalities to develop their permanent patio permitting process, so businesses can apply for permanent patio liquor licences.
Bray called the emergence of Victoria patio culture one of the positive outcomes of the last two years of pandemic, adding patios are “crucial” to continuing the vibrancy and vitality of downtown.
Petr Prusa, owner of Floyd’s Diner agrees, noting it adds a little European flair to Victoria.
“It’s a great idea — we need the summer to be able to recoup from the losses of COVID, and it adds a nice element to the city,” he said.
Helps said the city is establishing a process for restaurants to apply to the city to make their outdoor seating areas permanent. She said the new process and regulations for outdoor seating won’t be quite as liberal as the Build Back Victoria program was during the pandemic, but it will also not be as inflexible as the existing sidewalk café bylaw.
“What our staff are working on right now is finding that middle ground, having the flexibility of Build Back Victoria but recognizing that we are a capital city and we can’t just have two-by-fours being thrown up in roads and calling it a patio,” she said.
“It was unanimous on council to have the patios stay. Now we work with the businesses to figure out what is the steady state program.”