Restaurant and bar patios get OK to stay another year

Those patios popping up all over the region, helping pubs and restaurants to ensure social distancing and beef up bottom lines battered by the pandemic, aren’t going away any time soon.

The province on Friday extended temporary measures for expanded seating to Oct. 31, 2021.

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The Attorney General’s Ministry also extended to March 31 regulations allowing businesses with food- and liquor-primary licences to sell and deliver unopened liquor products.

Both temporary measures announced in May were set to expire on Oct. 31.

Jeff Bray, chief executive of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, applauded the decision, saying the extension of temporary seating is essential for the survival of many businesses, even as the weather cools.

He said city hall has already received 125 applications for flexible spaces on sidewalks, streets and courtyards, as pubs and restaurants expand their footprints amid strict distancing rules.

As of Sept. 11, the province said 1,073 applications for temporary service areas have been approved in communities throughout B.C.

Victoria council endorsed the continuation of the patio program, Build Back Victoria.

“Businesses have told us time and again that those patios and flex spaces have been extremely helpful in keeping things going during the summer,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, adding there’s no reason that can’t continue. “Whether it’s patio heaters, temporary roofing … there are lots of ways this program can be made successful through the winter and carry on next spring and summer.”

She said the extension of temporary spaces for another year was only successful because of a partnership between local governments and the provincial government, which oversees liquor licensing laws.

“I want to thank the province for being so nimble,” said Helps. “This gives our businesses certainty that Build Back Victoria might just be here to stay.”

Bray expects businesses to continue investing in outdoor structures, noting some have already installed overhead coverings, patio heaters and televisions.

While the building code and fire regulations come under provincial jurisdiction, Bray is hoping the city will be flexible with businesses located in heritage buildings, where they’re not allowed to alter the building in even the slightest way, such as installing an awning.

“My request to the city is that they should really work with businesses, make them the top priority,” said Bray.

Bray said the extension offered by the province Friday will help businesses affected by a recent COVID-driven clampdown on alcohol service, which is now cut off at 10 p.m., which owners say will dent already sparse earnings.

“Employers and employees need the business and they need the hours to help them survive during the pandemic.”

Dan Lau, general manager and part owner of the Yates Street Taphouse, has built an elaborate deck with televisions and heaters covering about six parking spaces on Yates Street. The patio is wheelchair-accessible, and there is an area for customers who want to bring their dogs.

It cost the company about $10,000 to build the deck, with another $3,000 in extras to outfit the area. Lau said the taphouse may reduce the size to about four parking spaces in the coming months and invest in a more permanent structure.

“It’s an investment we hope will keep people coming in … it’s made a big difference this year,” Lau said Friday. “The patio gives us the opportunity to service people who might not otherwise come in. Being outside makes them feel safer.”

Lau hopes the patio will attract more customers during the day and early evening, because the new earlier closing time is expected to cut monthly earnings by up to 20%.

Bray is hopeful patios will become a permanent part of downtown Victoria, creating a vibrancy similar to that of some European cities.

Ian Tostensen, chief executive of the B.C. Restaurants Association, said the extension of expanded seating helps to take away a lot of uncertainty for business owners.

“It’s a great decision,” he said. “Now restaurants can plan and get it done.”

He expects some delays in permits and the purchase of certain items such as heaters, “but now we can get on with it.”

— with files from Katie DeRosa

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