At a time of year when patio season is usually winding down, the City of Kingston is allowing outdoor dining right through the winter months.
It’s the first time it’s been allowed, and it’s to help small business owners struggling in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They (customers) are using the patio,” says Paul Fortier, owner of The Public House in downtown Kingston, “I realize this past weekend we had mild nights, but the patio was full.”
Fortier is grateful that the patio season has been extended to March 31 next year. It’s an asset to keeping his business open, and the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic.
“Every little bit helps,” says Fortier. “It just makes the whole restaurant a lot more welcoming.
“More people come in.”
Last week, Kingston city council unanimously approved a motion put forward by Councillor Jim Neill to extend the patio season.
It is an idea that was rejected back in 2016, but these are different times, according to Neill.
“I think council has made the right decision,” Neill says.
The concern four years ago was snow removal around the patios, which Fortier said is a weak argument.
“Pandemic, no pandemic, we want the streets to be cleaned,” says Fortier. “It’s our responsibility to clear the sidewalk in front of our business and we do that with great care.”
“It’s going to be a challenge for Public Works with patios still open, but I think it’s a challenge we can meet,” Neill says.
Another challenge for business owners is creating a comfortable space outdoors to enjoy, even in January — which can cost thousands of dollars.
“They (costumers) sit around the fire pit,” says Fortier. “They sit beside the flame … patio heaters — and have a warm drink.”
A further point made by several business owners is that the City of Kingston should take the lead, following the example of cities like Quebec City and Montreal, where outdoor dinning or outdoor patios are the norm throughout the winter.
“Montreal yes, Peel Street and St. Catherines Street, lots of outdoor patios right through the winter months,” says Fortier.
According to Restaurants Canada, the food service sector has lost 800,000 jobs since March 1 and that one in 10 restaurants nationwide will close permanently in the next month if current conditions continue.