It’s another big week for Toronto restaurants as the city prepares to move into Stage 3 of its reopening plan on Friday, allowing indoor dining to resume for the first time since mid-March. Each step of reopening has posed a new learning curve for the city’s restaurants, as they implement new best practices for safely serving diners.
If you’ve dined on a restaurant patio over the past month, you’ll notice that the shift to indoor dining won’t look all that different at most of your favourite restaurants. At the Commoner Bar Room in Little Italy, manager Phil Agostinelli says that diners can expect the “same strict sanitation protocols as the patio, with the addition of mandatory masks while entering and moving around the space.”
The Stage 3 protocol will be similar downtown at Marben, where general manager Karen Davidson says the restaurant will be requesting that diners wear a mask whenever they’re not seated at their tables.
“We are preparing the restaurant by offering QR Code menus to reduce handheld items from being passed around; enforcing masks in all instances where guests are not seated; offering hand sanitizer throughout the restaurant; sanitizing all surfaces, such as debit terminals; and heightening cleaning procedures,” says Davidson.
In this way, Toronto diners can anticipate the indoor masking procedure at most restaurants to be similar to what we’ve come to expect on patios. On patios, we’ve been free to take off our mask while sitting at our tables to eat and drink but requested to wear them when going inside to use the washroom, for example.
Indoor dining will follow the same approach: you should enter the restaurant wearing a mask and wear one whenever you’re walking around the space, but you can remove it when sitting at your table.
As with patios, you’ll also see a reduced seating capacity inside restaurants, with public health guidelines requiring tables to be kept a minimum of two metres apart. Many Toronto restaurants, such as Wahlburgers and the Distillery Restaurants Corp., have also installed plexiglass barriers between tables for added protection.
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“The fact that we went through the patio protocol is going to make it easier,” says Rik Ocvrik, VP of the Distillery Restaurants Corp., which includes El Catrin, Cluny Bistro, Madrina Bar y Tapas, and Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill. “We’re definitely adjusting our reservations to say ‘would you like to be inside or outside?’ but I don’t see it [indoor dining] being a popular option.”
Ocvrik thinks customers will prefer to sit outside to enjoy the summer weather and also because many will be conscious that the risk of transmitting COVID is reduced in open-air spaces.
“But at least if it rains now we get to stay open,” he adds. “We’ve had days where we’ve had zero sales because it rains all day and so you’re just closed.”