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Dec. 4, 2020 | Friday
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NOTL restaurants prepare to open patios Friday
Owner of the Irish Harp Jovie Joki stands outside near the front patio area. (Jessica Maxwell)

Restaurants with outdoor patio space are permitted to operate starting Friday, June 19, in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

On Monday, the province added the Niagara region to plans in moving forward with the second phase of a gradual approach to restart business operations. 

“Stage 2 will allow more people to get back to work safely while not overburdening the critical services that support families, workers and Ontario’s economy,” says the information published by the province in a document called "A Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 2." 

The report states restaurants, bars, food trucks and other food and drink establishments can open for dining in outdoor areas only, such as patios, curbside, parking lots and adjacent premises. 

It encourages those establishments to maintain physical distancing between patrons through the use of reservations, limiting the number of patrons in any outdoor space at one time and ensuring enough space between tables.  

Indoor facility access must be limited to payment, washrooms, outdoor dining area access and food pickup. 

The Sandtrap Pub & Grill is building an outdoor patio in the parking lot that will be ready to open at the end of the week. Patrons will be able to book reservations on the day they are looking to dine, not in advance. 

Patio hours will be noon to 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Sandtrap will be closed Sunday and Monday for Father's Day.

Bricks & Barley in Virgil is among the NOTL restaurants planning to offer patio service starting Friday.

June 19 with the full menu available to customers.  

Regular operating hours will resume from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. While patrons will be able to enjoy the full menu on the outdoor patio, delivery and takeout options will continue for those wanting to stay home. 

“We are starting with reservations only, but if (customers) come to the restaurant and we have a time slot available then gladly we would seat (them),” said general manager Christie Devos.

“It’s pretty full hours,” Devos said Wednesday, as the restaurant started taking reservations. “There will be ample opportunity to book either earlier time slots or later in the evening time slots.” 

Reservations are essential because restaurants can't have a waiting area for patrons, she said. “They’re discouraging from any sort of area where you’re waiting, sitting or congregation.” 

Using reservations will help to ensure time and space between customers.  

“We just don’t want people to keep walking up, hoping to get in," she said and is "cautiously optimistic” everything will run smoothly. “We ended up with about 14 tables, so it’s not a bad little size to start with.”  

The patio will also be open for service at The Old Firehall in St. Davids, says owner Chris Rigas. 

Regular operating hours from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. will resume and the restaurant will also continue takeout and delivery for customers. 

Reservations will be required for the most part, says Rigas, but if there are walk-ups and tables are available, the Old Firehall will try to accommodate patrons. 

He said reservations will help ensure staff members have enough time to practise proper health and safety procedures. 

“You have to give yourself time to be able to flip a table and sanitize it,” Rigas said. 

“Ideally, the restaurant is designed to be full and you want to flip tables as fast as you can,” he said, “but we gotta deal with what we gotta deal with right now and then moving forward hopefully restrictions are eased a little bit.” 

“The big issue is like, what do you do as a restaurant,” Rigas said. “You’re limited space, you’re trying to pay your bills, trying to pay your staff, you’re trying to make some money for yourself.” 

However, he is happy restaurants are now able to serve more customers. 

“I’ll just take whatever they give us right now. At this point it’s, how much longer can they expect people to go without income and continually paying their bills,” he said. 

“We have property taxes, utility bills, telephone lines, cable bills, that’s all getting paid still. Hopefully the locals will support us and hopefully we get some tourism business in town and it at least helps us salvage somewhat of a season here,” Rigas said. 

The Olde Angel Inn is gearing up and getting ready to make sure potential patio service is delivered as safely and as distanced as possible, manager Audrey Tardif said. 

“We’re waiting to hear back from the town about opening up a makeshift patio area,” she told The Lake Report Tuesday. “We’re hoping to get some sort of outdoor seating as soon as we can.” 

If the outdoor patio space is approved, Tardif said the restaurant is ready to move forward on Friday. Takeout will continue through the front door rather than the side window to ensure physical distancing of customers. 

“We’ve been talking about this for over two weeks now hoping to get the green light at some point so that when it came, we were ready,” she said. “We have new policies, procedures and rules. We definitely have everything in place for when we’re ready.” 

“If everyone gets a little chance to enjoy some piece of summer and we get to help do that safely, then we’re ready and we’re excited.” 

This would involve outdoor patio service operating on a first come, first served basis with tables at a safe distance. Customers will be encouraged to view the menu on their phones so there is less contact made, but disposable menus will be available as well. 

“We do believe we will have some sort of time limit so that we can get as many people in as we can, so everyone gets a chance to enjoy some sort of the new normal,” Tardif said. 

“We want everyone to get the chance to enjoy it, whether it be for half an hour or an hour and half.” 

Tardif said the Olde Angel Inn is feeling good moving forward and appreciates how much the municipality has worked with the businesses in town. 

“They’ve been working hand in hand with small businesses. It doesn’t go unnoticed and it is appreciated,” Tardif said. 

“Every time they chat about something or they come to some sort of decision, we’ve been very made aware and it’s been great,” she said. “They’re doing what they can.” 

Jovie Joki, owner of The Irish Harp, said the mayor, town CAO and another town staff member visited the pub to look at the back parking lot for use as a patio space. 

She said the parking lot was recently redone so patio set-up will include spacing tables two metres apart in the new space. 

“The front patio is pretty good with the six feet apart, so we’ll only be sitting parties that are together at each spot,” Joki said. 

As soon as it was announced that Niagara was moving into Stage 2, the phone starting ringing at the Irish Harp. 

“We’ve already had calls for bookings this weekend for reservations for the patio,” Joki told The Lake Report Monday night. 

“It’s great that they support the Harp and they love it so much,” she said, “but with only so limited seating, it’s going to be hard to accommodate.” 

“I don’t even have the tables yet, I’ve got to find that, which I’m trying to work on,” she said. “Then getting the staff is the other issue. It’s very short notice.” 

Along with opening the patio at the end of the week, takeout will continue at the Irish Harp.  Even though takeout orders have increased with the warmer weather, “it certainly doesn’t compare to our volume of anything we get inside, but it plugs the holes,” she said. 

Joki said it will be nice to have people coming to enjoy the pub patio, to see their regulars and have somewhat of a pub atmosphere. 

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