The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit throughout the pandemic. Prolonged lockdowns and labour shortages, along with increasing food costs, have made their struggles extraordinarily challenging. Our community loves and needs our restaurants and the City has taken many steps over the past 20 months to support them, such as expedited patio permits, waived fees, and inclusion of representatives of the Burlington Restaurant Association in the Burlington COVID-19 Task Force.
Throughout the pandemic many restaurant owners demonstrated incredible resilience and flexibility, doing all they could to stay in business and serve their customers safely. Our supportive community ordered curbside pickup and when the weather was pleasant, we sat outside on spacious patios with friends and family. Restaurant owners got creative with their outdoor spaces and created expanded patios and covered tents to increase their outdoor seating when indoor dining was not permitted. These tents were even up in the colder weather last winter, and our city building teams worked hard with owners to ensure the tents met the guidelines and codes required to keep staff and customers safe. Making sure emergency exit routes were sufficient, proper ventilation was in place for heaters, and the timely removal of heavy winter snow loads from roofs were just some of the important elements that had to be considered.
When the Province removed limitations to indoor dining capacities late last month (provided they require proof of vaccination from patrons), we all felt relief for our local restaurants and saw the tables start to fill up again.
With winter temperatures now upon us, and tents needing to be enclosed again to keep customers warm, our Chief Building Official has requested a small number of the remaining tents be removed due to public safety concerns.
This request relates to the small number of tents that were originally approved based on the assumption of zero indoor diners. With all patrons already being outside in the tent, any emergency that required them to exit the premise quickly (like a fire) would still provide sufficient time and space for them to safely do so. With indoor dining now back in full force, the safety concerns have changed.
I empathize greatly with our restaurant industry as they continue to recover from the effects of pandemic lockdowns and I know our community will fill up tables in the months ahead especially with our high vaccination rates. I also appreciate the important role our Chief Building Official plays in making objective decisions that prioritize the health and safety of our community as per Provincial regulations, and ultimately this is his decision. These are challenging times and I know we are all doing our best to support one another through them.