By now you likely know that “the data available so far indicate that indoor transmission of the virus far outstrips outdoor transmission.” Which is a key reason why outdoor dining is safer than indoor dining. As the weather has become colder in Toronto, we have seen patio tents in restaurants become ubiquitous. Which raises the question: at what point does dining in an enclosed tent become as risky as dining indoors?
What does the law say? First, let’s look at the CaféTo guidelines. Which state:
A tent/structure may be permitted on private property if the following requirements are met:
- An area that is covered by a roof, canopy, tent, awning or other element, must have at least two full sides open to the outdoors and cannot not be blocked by other walls or physical…
Some might argue that this requirement is just a guideline. However, Ontario Regulation 263/20 RULES FOR AREAS IN STAGE 2 mirrors the above guidelines and states in Schedule 2:
12. If an outdoor dining area at the establishment is covered by a roof, canopy, tent, awning or other element, at least two full sides of the entire outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and must not be substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers.
13. If an outdoor dining area at the establishment is equipped with a retractable roof and the roof is retracted, at least one full side of the outdoor dining area must be open to the outdoors and must not be substantially blocked by any walls or other impermeable physical barriers.
Based on the above it is a legal requirement for restaurant patio tents to have two full sides open to the outdoors. The purpose of this requirement is to increase outdoor airflow and thus reduce the risk of Covid transmission.
What happens if you see a restaurant that is not in compliance with this requirement e.g. a completely enclosed tent with customers inside? You may want to heed the purpose of this requirement and not dine there due to the risks. If you know the owner, you might want to inform them about these requirements. You also can contact 311 to inform the City of potential noncompliance.
Restaurant workers and owners have been hard hit during this pandemic. I admire their resolve in face of trouble and their use of patio tents to save their jobs and business. As the weather becomes colder there might be a temptation to close the tents i.e. not have at least two full sides open. However, these rules are there to protect us. While there is a case that all levels of government might not be doing enough to help the restaurant industry, that is still no excuse for not complying with regulations that protect safety.