Just in time for summer, Ontario's outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars, food trucks, wineries, breweries and distilleries are becoming available in Ontario's Stage 2 regions. Currently, restaurants and bars in Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara and other areas near the U.S. border remain in Stage 1, with restaurants being restricted to take-out, delivery and drive-through.

On June 8, 2020, the Ontario government announced a regional approach to Stage 2 of reopening the province effective Friday, June 12 at 12:01 a.m. Businesses and services permitted to reopen (with proper health and safety measures in place) in Stage 2 regions include outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments, including patios, curbside, parking lots and adjacent premises.

Public health unit regions allowed to move into Stage 2 as of June 12, 2020, are listed on the province's website. As of Friday, June 19, 2020, the following additional areas will move into Stage 2: Durham, Hamilton, York, Halton, Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk and Sarnia-Lambton County. Notably absent from the Stage 2 lists are Toronto, Peel, and Windsor-Essex County Public Health Units. These regions will remain in Stage 1 until "trends of key public health indicators demonstrate readiness to move into Stage 2." The provincial government will provide an update at the beginning of each week to assess whether additional regions are ready to move to Stage 2 by the end of that week.

Food and drink establishments in Stage 2 regions are required to take appropriate measures to ensure physical distancing of at least two metres between patrons from different households, including by:

  • Using reservations,
  • Limiting the number of patrons allowed in the outdoor space at one time,
  • Ensuring enough space between tables (including to allow for movement), and
  • Limiting access to any indoor facilities, including accessing the patio/outdoor dining area, picking up or paying for food, using washrooms or other health and safety purposes.

Additionally, Ontario has published resources, best practices and information for all restaurant and food-services workers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work. Servers, bartenders, cashiers, hosts, chefs, dishwashers, administrators, drive-thru operators, and maintenance staff should, among other recommendations:

  • Wash their hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, including after making or receiving deliveries, touching high-touch areas, and after removing gloves,
  • Sanitize surfaces and equipment often, between each transaction if possible,
  • Wear gloves when interacting with high-touch areas, if possible,
  • Wash clothes when they return home, and
  • Immediately notify their supervisor if they are ill, complete a self-assessment and follow the instructions contained there.

In addition to facilitating clean worksites by providing access to materials and time for proper sanitization, employers can help minimize contact with customers (including by minimizing or eliminating cash and at-the-door transactions), assign staff to ensure physical distancing is maintained in congested areas, use floor markings and barriers to manage traffic flow, refuse to accept customers' re-usable bags and containers, install barriers (such as plexiglass or markings on the floor) to ensure distance between customers and cashiers, stagger shifts and lunch breaks, and hold meetings outside.

Employers will be asked to track where their employees have worked. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will ask employers to provide information on where the employee worked as well as the contact information of any other employee who may have been exposed.

All employers must post and communicate COVID-19 policies to workers. These policies should cover how the workplace will operate, including, but not limited to:

  • the sanitization of the workplace,
  • how workers report illnesses to their employer,
  • how to ensure physical distancing,
  • how work will be scheduled, and
  • screening measures.

Ontario has published a workplace safety plan guide with a template to help each employer develop their own safety plan that is right for the risks and appropriate controls specific to the employer's workplace (see the news release).

The government of Ontario will be closely watching how the Stage 2 regions respond to the opening of outdoor dine-in services. We anticipate that requirements and best practices may be revised with lessons learned, before being rolled out in the remaining regions. 

Liquor sales licensees in Stage 2 regions may wish to temporarily extend the size of their existing licensed patio, or temporarily add a new licensed patio. Ontario has authorized these extensions and additions within the approved period, without a separate licence or approval, provided all of the following conditions are met:

  • the physical extension of the premises is adjacent to the premises to which the existing licence to sell liquor applies,
  • the municipality in which the premises is situated does not object to an extension,
  • the licensee is able to demonstrate sufficient control over the physical extension of the premises, and
  • there is no condition on the liquor sales licence prohibiting a patio.

As such, liquor sales licensees will need to review their licences for any relevant restrictions and ensure that any extension or addition is designed to be adjacent to the licensed area and within the licensees' control.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.