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‘The blood’s flowing again’: Toronto restaurants prepare for reopening blowout, just as Euro soccer starts

‘The blood’s flowing again’: Toronto restaurants prepare for reopening blowout, just as Euro soccer starts
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Friday might be the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for restaurants in Toronto. It marks the return of patio dining to the city. The restaurant reopening coincides with the start of the European Football Championship, a massive sporting event and big draw for patrons in the city.

“It’s going to be a great reopening.”

It’s been a brutal year for restaurants in Toronto. From the beginning, the pandemic decimated the industry and whiplash lockdown restriction changes from the province piled on further hurt.

The reopening was initially scheduled for June 14, but was pushed forward after an announcement Monday.

Social-distancing rules, which limit tables to four people maximum and require they be spaced out at least six feet from each other, have cut Diplomatico’s patio capacity from 117 to about 70. Still, it’s a far better than zero.

“Soccer’s part of our business model,” said Mastrangelo. “It’s a huge draw and we do big promotions for it — not this year, though, obviously, because we didn’t know we were going to be open for it.”

Normally, there would be a street party to accompany the game.

Italy’s team is playing, which would add to the fanfare in the neighbourhood.

Dave Auger, general manager of 817 Sports Bar & Grill near Queen and Bathurst, said, since reopening was announced, the restaurant’s phone has been ringing off the hook.

Auger said it’s been overwhelming; 817 has limited patio space and just five of its six tables have a view of the TV screen. Next week, the addition of a plexiglass divider will bump the patio to nine tables, but not in time for the big game.

“All we can do is advise people of the rules and do our best,” he said. “But on the patio, the rules are very strict. We will enforce them completely and make sure everyone has a good time.”

Unfortunately, many thousands of restaurants did not survive to see the excitement this week would bring.

In the first few weeks of the pandemic, 10 per cent of the country’s eateries had permanently closed and an estimated 800,000 of Canada’s 1.2 million restaurant workers had been laid off .

By December, more than 15 per cent, or 10,000 , of Canada’s restaurants were gone forever.

Moments of hope for the battered industry, such as the one this week, have been few and far between.

In Toronto, there was just such a moment in March, when the province suddenly decided to allow restaurants to reopen patios. Restaurants were given less than 24 hours notice of the rule change and many worked night and day to prepare — power-washing furniture, advertising on social media and frantically ordering enough food and drink to meet increased demand.

Just two weeks later, the lockdown returned, shuttering the city’s patios yet again, leaving owners with hefty bills for supplies that would go unused, and staff without jobs yet again.

Restaurateurs pray when patios reopen Friday, it will be for good.

Mastrangelo said distrust in reopening plans has made it difficult to re-hire staff.

“That two-week stint where we got shut down again right away turned off a lot of staff,” said Mastrangelo. “A lot of them waiting on the sidelines now to make sure we actually stay open.

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“Having to come back to work only to get laid off after two weeks really screwed them up.”

Mastrangelo said, with time, restaurant staff will grow comfortable enough to return, but he fears for what would happen should the lockdown return.

“I believe the restaurant industry is on it’s way back to a normal lifestyle,” said Mastrangelo. “And I hope I’m correct, because it would be very, very bad if we get shut down again.”
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