When the Alberta government once again banned indoor dining because of COVID-19, Taco Loft co-owner Michael Ubbing wasted no time expanding his outdoor patio.
“We had it built in 24 hours,” said Ubbing.
“We’re the new guy on the block so we’ve definitely seen a lot of community support for the first round,” he said.
Ubbing and his business partner Todd Lawrence had just opened Taco Loft on the second floor 4926 Ross Street when the Alberta government first closed restaurants to sit-in dining.
Helped by strong takeout sales they have kept the doors open. But with takeout thriving city-wide, competition has been stiff among restaurants and getting customers in seats is important.
“We’re really dependent off of having customers come in,” he said.
Among restaurant owners hoping to have a patio ready soon for outdoor dining is Andre Lemus, owner of Las Palmeras restaurant.
As soon as the government announced the latest ban on sit-in dining, Lemus readied for more takeout and delivery business at the family-owned business at 3630 50 Ave.
Finding other revenue streams will be critical for many businesses, he said. “You have to. Otherwise it’s takeout only — and it’s not enough.”
In previous years, he had applied for an outdoor eating space but was stymied by city parking requirements.
City of Red Deer signalled earlier this month that it was making it easier for businesses to open or expand existing patios. To help restaurants get their patios built as quickly as possible, restaurateurs can install them before a permit is issued with a signed waiver.
Inspections and licensing manager Erin Stuart said there has been quite a bit of local interest from businesses in getting a temporary patio permit.
Given the unique challenge of trying to do business during a pandemic, the city may approve patios that might not have met requirements in normal times.
“It is likely we’ll accommodate variances, either to parking standards or landscaping standards, which are the most common,” she said. “The important thing for us is that they meet safety standards.”
Permits will be valid until the end of September, even if the province lifts health restrictions and indoor dining is allowed again.
Lacombe announced last week that it was streamlining its patio approval process to make it easier for restaurants to get outdoor dining set up.
The chief administrative officer can now approve extended patios, even those that do not meet the criteria established by the city’s On-Street Patio Policy, which was instituted last summer. Patios can now be approved on more public spaces than the original policy allows, including green spaces, public plazas, boulevards, and sidewalks.
Town of Sylvan Lake is also planning to tweak its regulations to help clear the way for more outdoor dining. Patio applications will be fast-tracked and development permit fees waived for those building patios because of COVID restrictions.