Toronto City Council approves CaféTO program changes and support for small businesses

Manjit Sing

On 7th February, Toronto City Council approved CaféTO program changes needed to make the popular program permanent and actions to support Toronto’s small businesses. Council approved amendments to Chapter 742, Sidewalk Cafés, Parklets and Marketing Displays, which advance the transition of CaféTO from a temporary emergency response initiative into a sustainable City of Toronto program that makes Toronto’s streets more attractive, safe and accessible, while continuing to allow restaurants and bars to operate with expanded space outdoors.

The permanent program will introduce uniform platforms for accessibility, and fees to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program. In recognition of the challenges faced by small businesses, restaurants and bars, Council voted for several measures to assist with the transition to a permanent program.

To support CaféTO operators, the City will reduce all permit and application fees by 66 per cent this year. These fees, which were waived by Council between 2020 and 2022 to support the industry, will be phased in over three years with the full amount to be charged in 2025. Council has also asked staff to study creating an additional fee tier for businesses that do not have a liquor license or provide food service. Updated fees for curb lane cafés and sidewalk cafés are designed to encourage co-investment with the City in the program from restaurant and bar owners while supporting the viability of the cafés in curb lanes and on sidewalks.

CaféTO operators will be required to install temporary platforms in curb lane café permit areas to ensure curb lane cafés are fully accessible and meet other program objectives.
Council also approved a transition period to give restaurants and bars until August 1 to install platforms if needed, allowing restaurant operators to use their permitted curb lane café area by deploying temporary ramps into curb lane café areas from the sidewalk until platform installation.

Grant programs are also available to assist businesses and BIAs participating in the CaféTO program.

The City has supported CaféTO with more than $20 million in funding over the life of the program so far. A 2022 economic impact study from Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) found that the program delivered $203 million in economic benefits to Toronto in 2022, and that customers spent an estimated $179 million dining at CaféTO patios from May through September.

Through the CaféTO Property Improvement Program, $1,500,000 is now available to support operators with the cost of installing a temporary platform, an increase of $1,000,000 from the original $500,000 available. This program will match 50 per cent of the cost of eligible patio space improvements, including costs associated with renting, leasing or purchasing accessible temporary platforms, up to a maximum of $7,500. This program is funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and is part of the Toronto Main Street Recovery and Rebuild Initiative (MRRI).

The City’s BIA CaféTO grant program will also continue this year and support planter maintenance and curb lane closure design. BIAs are eligible to receive up to $5,000.
The CaféTO program began in 2020 to help bar and restaurant operators during the pandemic by providing safe, expanded outdoor dining areas in the public right-of-way while indoor dining capacities were restricted. In late 2021, Council approved a plan to transition many of CaféTO’s temporary processes into a permanent program, starting with a return to standard sidewalk café permitting and a streamlined administration and application process. 1,327 establishments across Toronto participated in CaféTO in 2022.

In addition to making CaféTO permanent, in 2023, the City will continue to provide a 15 per cent reduction in the municipal property tax rate for eligible small business properties.

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