Victoria restaurants and bars seek to keep expanded patio space over winter

Victoria and other municipalities threw restaurants and bars a lifeline this summer by allowing them to expand their patios onto streets, sidewalks, plazas and boulevards.

For many businesses, the extra space was the difference between success and failure in the face of COVID-19 and new restrictions on the number of people seated indoors.

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Now, those restaurants and bars want local governments to keep the expanded patios in place through the winter and into next summer.

“It’s so important because the industry is in really, really rough shape,” said Ian Tostenson, president of the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“And to allow some extra space outside to deal with the constricted capacity that we’re working on right now is really appreciated.”

Victoria council will consider the issue today. The city’s summer-long pilot project to accelerate patio permits and work with businesses to add flexible outdoor spaces is set to conclude in October.

But Coun. Jeremy Loveday and Mayor Lisa Helps are recommending that council endorse an extension, pending feedback from residents and businesses in an upcoming staff report.

They also want the city to press the provincial government to extend the temporary authorization that allowed restaurants bars, brew pubs and others to expand their licensed areas. The authorization expires Oct. 31.

Loveday said the city’s patio policy has helped businesses, added to the vibrancy of public spaces and allowed people to socialize while still helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I think that acting now to give that direction to city staff and to advocate to the province will hopefully allow enough time for patios to be winterized if that needs to happen, and also gives predictability for next spring and summer as well,” he said.

Loveday said the patios have been “one of the bright spots in an otherwise challenging time” and by passing the motion, council will send a signal that “patio culture has a place in Victoria’s culture.”

Neil Davis, owner of Mesa Familiar, said the ability to expand his café into Fernwood Square this summer saved his business.

So he was glad to hear that Loveday and Helps are pushing to extend the policy through the winter months.

“We actually had a great summer and everybody had a wonderful safe time out there,” he said. “And I think we can continue that. I’ve already invested in a couple of patio heaters.”

Without an extension, Davis said he’ll have to look at changing his entire business model.

“Once this patio goes away, I’m down to about eight seats, which really isn’t conducive to any kind of business whatsoever.”

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