City of Toronto maximizes patio season by allowing portable heaters for CaféTO, streamlining overall restaurant patio heater process

With cooler fall weather approaching, the City of Toronto has announced plans to allow portable heaters to be placed in all outdoor patios, including CaféTO curb lane closures, to help keep outdoor dining spaces open longer and provide additional support for local restaurants.

The CaféTO program is due to end in late fall (pending snowfall in weather forecasts) and allowing restaurant operators to safely introduce portable heaters will help make outdoor dining more appealing to customers, encourage physical distancing to help stop virus spread, and give restaurant operators the chance to maximize outdoor patio season and generate revenue.

Portable heating devices, including fire fuelled appliances like propane heaters, will be allowed on all outdoor patio types in Toronto, including sidewalks and curb lane cafés. The guidelines for safe use developed by Toronto Fire Services will be available to patio and café operators today, and operators must follow them closely. Locations will be monitored for safe use and enforced by City bylaw officers and Toronto Fire Services staff. Before, there were numerous documents and applications required for heaters on patios to be approved. The new Fire Services’ guidelines streamline that process and the documentation is no longer required at this time.

Some examples of the guidelines include only using heaters that meet federal and provincial safety requirements, installing and storing units per the manufacturer’s instructions, and removing heaters from the curb lane when the café is not in use. As per CaféTO safety and accessibility guidelines, tents and structures are still not permitted in curb lane closures.

The City’s CaféTO program is a quick-start program started during the COVID-19 pandemic that supports more than 760 restaurants across Toronto with increased dining capacity. This includes over 400 curb lane closures and sidewalk cafes, occupying more than 9,000 metres of public right-of-way, as well as 44 parklets. A key component of the CaféTO program is that all locations meet important safety, accessibility and physical distancing guidelines and City staff have installed nearly 400 asphalt curb ramps which contributes to accessibility.

The City is also planning an online survey to gather input from both local restaurant operators about the CaféTO program and customers who have visited CaféTO locations. Input from the survey will help inform future decisions about the program. The survey, and other information, will be available at CafeTO.

Toronto City Council approved the CaféTO program on June 29. The City worked ahead to pre-register as many restaurants as possible and the first curb lane locations were open for business on July 1. On July 9, the City received a new Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) from the Province of Ontario that helped ease zoning restrictions on outdoor patios while allowing for expanded patios on private property, including parking areas.

A cross-divisional team from Toronto Public Health, Transportation Services, Economic Development, Municipal Licensing and Standards, City Planning and Strategic Communications has overseen the development and implementation of the program. Members of the group have worked closely with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), restaurant associations and other key stakeholders to urgently navigate all possible considerations while anticipating issues.

Quotes:

“We are doing everything we can to support our local restaurant industry. I heard this request from the restaurant industry and took action to help allow portable heaters to safely keep CaféTO installations and patios warm, even in late October and November, to help extend the season. I want to thank City staff for working to find a way to make this possible to help restaurants as much as we can right now.”

– Mayor John Tory

“This is another great example of the many ways the City has stepped up to help our local businesses through the pandemic. By helping to extend patio season we’re making the most of the incredible success of the CaféTO program on main streets across the city. An extra month or so of service could make all the difference to businesses at this critical moment. This is the kind of proactive, creative response communities expect from their local government.”

– Councillor Brad Bradford, Ward 19 Beaches-East York