With Toronto currently sitting in the control (red) level of the COVID-19 response framework, indoor dining in the city remains off-limits for at least another month. On top of that, the city has implemented a 9 p.m. curfew on alcohol, meaning that despite some restaurants staying open past 9, they are not permitted to serve alcoholic beverages to their patrons.
Despite the colder temperatures, restaurants are endeavouring to work within the restrictions by offering sit-down dining outside and a growing trend has emerged. Customers are booking their dinner reservations earlier than ever, both to avoid dining in the dark, but also to secure a spot before the crowds roll in.
For many restaurants, dinner reservations once poured in after 5 p.m., signalling the end of the business day for many who work a 9 to 5 job. But, with the majority of Canadians now working remotely from home, time has gone out the window and eating earlier is not only a new possibility but also a convenience.
“With current provincial restrictions mandating a 9 p.m. last call for alcohol in Toronto right now (with a consumption end time of 10 p.m.), we have naturally seen a shift to earlier business,” said Elisabeth Bottomley, marketing and recruitment manager for Distillery Restaurants Corporation, which manages restaurants like Madrina, Cluny and El Catrin. “With that being said, we’re certainly not reaching anything approaching capacity at 5 p.m.”
In an attempt to boost profits, the Distillery Restaurant Group has launched a “happy hour” initiative between 3 and 6 p.m. on Monday to Friday (the slowest business hours) at Pure Spirits and El Catrin.
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Juan M. Gonzalez-Calcaneo is part of the communications team at Bandit Brewery, a bustling brewpub located in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood.
“We’ve definitely noticed that our patio has been seeing a bit more action earlier in the day,” Gonzalez-Calcaneo said. “The 9 p.m. curfew hasn’t changed things too drastically for us. We’re really thankful that our guests continue to brave the cold to join us for dinner on our heated patio, taking advantage of the day’s last rays of sun. We hope we can continue doing this safely for the next few weeks.”
Prior to the pandemic, Bandit Brewery opened up shop at 5 p.m. but now, as a result of the earlier demand for tables, has revised its operating times and has started welcoming guests beginning at 4 p.m.
Once only a summer fling, patio season in Toronto is here to stay, with many restaurants coming up with creative ways to cater to their guests outside. Heated patios continue to allow for a cozy and comfortable dining experience, whether that means having outdoor fireplaces or torches, or even handing out blankets to guests.
The majority of restaurants in the city also continue to offer takeout and delivery, both via their own in-house delivery systems or through third-party service providers.