So here’s the thing.
Given the option, and assuming the weather is favorable, I think that most people would rather eat outside than inside. I know that I certainly would. And that is why one of the great silver linings of the pandemic has been the allocation of more public space toward outdoor dining. Here in Toronto that initiative is called CaféTO, and the impact has been significant:
Researchers for an association of local business improvement areas estimated that customers spent $181-million in the repurposed parking spaces in the summer of 2021. The same spaces would have generated $3.7-million in parking revenue, according to the local parking authority, and even that modest figure assumed prepandemic levels of demand.
The above figure is based on the 940 restaurants that participated in the CaféTO program in the summer of 2021. And the estimate is that they served some 4.9 million customers on repurposed parking spaces in the 13 weeks that officially make up summer.
What I’m not able to figure out from the report, though, is how much of this $181 million is truly incremental. If you look at the breakdown of restaurant sales in the report, participating restaurants saw 36% of sales from CaféTO, 26% from indoor dining, 25% from permanent patios, and 13% from takeout/delivery.
It generally makes sense that CaféTO would make up the largest share of sales. It was summer. And outside is where people want to be. But again, to what extent did CaféTO drive additional revenue for restaurants? Did it induce more people to dine out? And if these patios weren’t there, how much of the above 36% would have just shifted to indoor dining?
I don’t know exactly. We would need to see historic sales. But I’m sure it has been a boon to restaurants. There is no doubt in my mind that CaféTO is a great benefit to the city and that it should be a permanent fixture for as long as there are humans who both need to eat and who enjoy being outside in the summer.