Toronto’s new outdoor dining rules explained

What to do if it rains and other essential questions answered

Toronto moved into phase two of reopening on June 24, allowing restaurants and bars to begin serving dine-in customers on patios. As restaurants adapt their service and design to comply with the safety guidelines laid out by Toronto Public Health, however, patio season won’t look like the summers we remember from years past.

Over the last few months, we’ve been flooded with an often overwhelming array of new rules and guidelines related to the pandemic. As the city begins to reopen, it can be tough to know exactly what to expect and how we should behave as we return to our favourite restaurants.

So, we’re answering a few key questions and outlining some simple best practices to keep in mind to help you safely make the most of patio season.

Do I need to make a reservation?

Toronto Public Health (TPH) is recommending that restaurants take reservations to minimize line-ups and crowding. That means you’ll be able to make reservations at restaurants where you might have typically walked-in in the past. It’s best to check the restaurant’s website before you head over.

Reservations are a recommendation, but not a requirement, so some restaurants are still taking walk-ins. King West’s Oretta, for example, is accepting both reservations and walk-ins. Owner Salvatore Mele says they’ve placed markers on the sidewalk outside to maintain physical distancing for queuing walk-in diners.

Will my server be wearing a mask?

Wearing masks is another guideline that’s recommended, but not required. Regardless, most restaurants are asking staff to wear face masks or shields to ensure both staff and diners feel comfortable and safe.

Why do I have to fill out a form?

Restaurants are required to take logs with your name and contact information, so the public health unit can notify everyone if an outbreak occurs. While some of us might feel less than enthused about sharing our contact details, it’s a requirement that restaurants have to enforce.

Charles Khabouth, CEO of INK Entertainment (Sofia, Cabana Waterfront Patio), says his teams have already had to turn away customers who refused to provide their contact details. “It’s more than a requirement; it’s what’s right,” says Khabouth. “I think it’s only right to be able to maintain everybody’s safety.”

Can I use the washroom?

Although you can’t dine inside a restaurant, you can go inside to use the washroom when you’re eating out on the patio. Restaurants are marking the direction of travel to washrooms (as well as entrances, exits, and pick-up areas), so keep an eye out for guiding signage when you’re making your way inside for a bathroom break.

Kinka Family (Kinton Ramen, JaBistro) has introduced “hygiene ambassadors” to help manage the flow of traffic in their restaurants.

“Anybody who goes into the restaurant has to check in with the ambassador first,” says Stella Yu, marketing director for the Kinka Family, adding that ambassadors will direct diners to washrooms as well as separate the movement of takeout and patio customers.

Can I eat inside if it rains?

Indoor dining is not permitted as part of stage two so, if it rains unexpectedly, be prepared to dine in the drizzle under an umbrella or pack up your meal to-go.

Many restaurants are still figuring out the best solution for rainy days. At Love Chix, for example, owner Paul Marshall, says he’s adding extra umbrellas in the hopes of sheltering guests from light rains.

“[We’re] just praying that Mother Nature helps us out a bit here,” says Marshall. “We’ll have to be on our weather apps all the time.”

What else should I keep in mind?

  • Restaurants need to maintain at least a two-metre distance between tables, which means seating will be more limited on your favourite patios than usual.
  • You won’t be able to order at the bar because customers must be seated for serving.
  • Tables are capped at six people and co-mingling between tables is discouraged, so try to keep your group limited to less than six.

The bottom line? Come in a small group, stay at your table as much as possible, follow instructions provided by staff and signs, and, hey, maybe even have some fun, too.

Article exclusive to TRNTO