The summer weather appears to be behind us for those living in Eastern Ontario.
Temperatures have dropped to single digits and the rain clouds have moved into the region.
This usually marks the end of the patio season in the province, but this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are keeping their outdoor dining spaces open.
“It’s important to have the fresh air flowing, and people feel safer being outside,” said Chantelle Lappan, the general manager of Tommy’s in Kingston.
Restaurants, like Tommys in Kingston’s hub district, are preparing to continue operating outdoors into the winter months. Tents, heaters and other forms of weatherproofing their patios are visible around the downtown core.
This, however, is a pricey investment that not every restaurant owner can afford.
“We have a single heater. They’ve been very hard to find, and it’s a big investment to build like a heated patio,” said Ryan Dhillon, the head brewer at Daft Brewing.
Daft Brewing held its grand opening weeks before the pandemic hit, according to Dhillon. When the region was given the green light to reopen restaurants for take-out and patio seating, the brewery built a 50-60 seat patio to make back lost revenue but decided not to create an outdoor dining space for the winter months.
“We want to spend our money wisely. We don’t want to push ourselves too far,” said Dhillon.
Indoor dining at bars and restaurants was prohibited in Ontario in the spring and is currently banned again in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa.
James Rilett, the Central Canada vice-president of Restaurants Canada, says many restaurant owners are struggling with debt accrued since the first shutdown. They cannot take the financial risk of investing in available solutions like patio heaters and weather protection.
“We’re afraid that the restaurant industry for the small folks is that they just have to close. That’s a hard reality,” said Rilett on Monday afternoon.
“The biggest thing we’re asking from the government right now is show us the data, show us why we’re closed. We still don’t know.”
Rilett says the government’s decision to shut down restaurants is unfounded. Citing, he has yet to see data showing that the virus has spread within restaurants.
“The provincial government has said that they’re going to come through with some more funding. We’re just waiting to see what that is,” said Rilett.
Daft Brewing says it’s one of those waiting on provincial funding, estimating they’ll lose approximately 50 per cent of their tables during the colder months.
According to the City of Kingston, the 2020 patio season has been extended until Nov. 30. After that, the City will review the 2021 patio season plans in the context of COVID-19 related restrictions and feedback on closing downtown parking spots for additional sidewalk patio space.
If adverse winter conditions arrive unexpectedly, the patio season could be shortened and wrote the City in an email.