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Beleaguered restaurants pushing for patio reprieve

Temporary patio liquor licences are set to expire in June. For restaurants, they’ve been a lifeline—and owners are afraid of losing them

By Brishti Basu
March 19, 2022
Food
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Beleaguered restaurants pushing for patio reprieve

Temporary patio liquor licences are set to expire in June. For restaurants, they’ve been a lifeline—and owners are afraid of losing them

By Brishti Basu
Mar 19, 2022
Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Food
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Beleaguered restaurants pushing for patio reprieve

Temporary patio liquor licences are set to expire in June. For restaurants, they’ve been a lifeline—and owners are afraid of losing them

By Brishti Basu
March 19, 2022
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Beleaguered restaurants pushing for patio reprieve
Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Restaurants across Victoria are preparing for a busy season ahead this summer, amid some uncertainty surrounding liquor licences for their temporary patio spaces. 

The municipality’s Build Back Victoria program, created at the start of the pandemic, allows restaurants, bars, and cafes to keep their patio spaces—most of which are structures built during the pandemic to allow outdoor seating space when COVID-19 restricted indoor dining—under a temporary licence until Oct. 31, 2022. 

But liquor licences tied to those spaces are set to expire on June 1, and approval for permanent licensing can take several months. With the deadline looming ahead, restaurant managers in Victoria say they’re hopeful the province will consider extending it to align with the city’s Oct. 31 date. 

“I have heard from a number of businesses that are moving towards the permanent patio and were feeling a level of stress that they would need to have their liquor licence approved by June,” said Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday. 

According to City of Victoria staff, there are currently 52 temporary patios in the city, of which 15 have applied to be made permanent. Approximately 40 of these patios have temporary liquor licences through the provincial government. Province-wide, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says there are 2,255 existing temporary patio licences. About 10% have applied to make them permanent.

Being able to serve food and liquor at these temporary patios has proved a lifeline for many local hospitality businesses that have weathered two years of the pandemic. 

At Pagliacci’s, manager Josh Miller says when physical distancing orders are in place, the restaurant’s capacity drops down from 30 tables to 11. “It’s really tough on our restaurant because it’s so small,” he said. The business is one of many awaiting approval of a liquor licence for their patio space, which adds six more tables to the venue. 

Pagliacci’s manager Josh Miller. Photo: Brishti Basu / Capital Daily

Irish Times and Bard & Banker pubs, Government Street staples, have also applied for a permanent sidewalk patio liquor licence. Connor MacNeil, general manager at Irish Times, told Capital Daily they submitted their application in September 2021 and are still waiting for approval. 

“They said it could take up to 10 to 12 months for the application process,” MacNeil said.

A few streets over, at The Courtney Room, restaurant manager Bill Lewis says he has had his permanent patio liquor licence application in for at least a few months now. 

“From what I understand, there is quite a backlog on those licences,” Lewis said. “I'm hoping and expect that we'll see at least if they can't get through all the licences by May… the province… could extend those through to match the city's timing.”

Lewis also pointed out that the province has something to lose if they don’t extend these licences: liquor tax revenue. “If you have all these patios that get shut down, that's a whole lot of tax revenue they're not going to see this summer,” he said. Last year, the Liquor Distribution Branch reported $1.16 billion of tax revenue from wholesale and retail liquor sales. In licensed establishments overall, liquor sales dropped 56% from pre-pandemic to last year as capacity was squeezed; the proportion of sales that came from patios specifically was not reported.

On Thursday, Loveday and Mayor Lisa Helps put forth a motion that advocates for the province to match the city’s Oct. 31 deadline. The motion was unanimously approved, which means Helps will be writing a letter to the premier, MLAs representing local ridings, and the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) asking for the province to extend temporary liquor licences for sidewalk patios until Halloween. 

“If the province followed through on it, it would give a bit more breathing room for those [patios] that are looking to become permanent, as well as city staff and provincial staff and liquor licensing, all of which are working towards a deadline that is proving to be a time crunch,” Loveday told Capital Daily. 

City councillors voted on this issue alongside applications from restaurants trying to get permits to stay open longer and extend their occupancy limits, no doubt preparing for a busy summer season. 

Lewis expects this summer will be Victoria's busiest tourist season yet, with a record-breaking number of cruise ship visits scheduled and a longer lead-up time with no restrictions. 

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“This year's a little better than last year, because last year we had part of the summer when we were still under levels of restrictions for April, May, and June,” he said. Once restrictions were lifted, it took about four weeks for the tourist season to kick off last year. “Being able to plan your summer holidays with some level of confidence compared to last year should allow for a more robust tourist season.”

Though the lack of restrictions is cause for excitement among restaurateurs, Loveday points out that many people are still vulnerable to the pandemic virus, which is known to spread more easily inside poorly ventilated, indoor spaces. 

“I think we're still at a stage when there's many people in our community who would feel a lot safer enjoying some of our great restaurants and cafes and bars on a patio setting rather than indoors,” Loveday said. 

The last two years have prepared businesses in the hospitality industry to pivot their services at a moment’s notice. Every manager we spoke to said they have masks, plexiglass, and other steps they can bring back out if restrictions are to return. 

“I really don’t think any more shutdowns are in the cards, but you never know,” said Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association (BCRFA). “Certainly, having the ability to move outside is the best.”

The province has already extended free, temporary liquor licences for patios once, in June 2021, to give restaurants more time to apply for permanent licences—applications were accepted until Oct. 31, 2021—and industry stakeholders are hopeful they will do it again. 

“We’re very optimistic,” Tostenson said. “The government knows the issue and we understand they're looking at how they can deal with it.”

There are already signs that the province is working on the issue. In a statement to Capital Daily, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said they will be helping “some communities that require more time.”

“Government has heard that the June 2022 extension is too soon for some licensees and local governments to get patio policies in place and applications submitted,” reads the statement. They did not provide any further details. 

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