COCHRANE— In response to provincial health measures only allowing for in-person dining outside, the Town of Cochrane has expedited the application process for local restaurants looking to create patios.
The process will allow restaurants to create temporary outdoor patios in private parking areas or public property. Areas can include sidewalks, parks, municipally owned and reserve parcels as well as in parking stalls on public roads.
“We’re always looking for new ways to support local business,” said Cochrane CAO Mike Derricott. “The combination of the new health regulations and improving weather made this a natural fit as a great way to help everyone support local.”
When restaurants apply, they will be required to provide details on the patio, follow specific guidelines and meet certain criteria. There is no waiting period or fees for restaurants that apply for a patio permit.
Once the paperwork is reviewed and approved by Town Planning staff, the patio can begin operations. Permits expire Sept. 30, 2021.
Mehtab East Indian Cuisine owner Jag Thind is exploring if it is financially viable to install a patio at his restaurant. Mehtab has been in Cochrane for more than a decade and has never had a patio.
“I’m pretty excited to see how the business can move forward," Thind said. “I’m pretty happy with the Town. They did their part which is great, but now it’s up to us, up to the businesses about what they want to do or what we can do.”
Thind, who is also vice president of the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce, has spoken with other restaurants and it remains a time of uncertainty in the industry. Most restaurants are worried about how many customers they will see if patios are opened, how long recent health measures will last and if they will continue to be able to pay rent.
He said while restaurants have been working hard to survive the COVID-19 pandemic the added costs of hosting a patio may not be possible for all businesses.
Thind is unsure what the future will look like for a patio at Mehtab and is awaiting final approval from the building landlord to find out if constructing a patio is even possible.
Thind estimates it will cost between $2,000 to $5,000 to create a patio at Mehtab. Based on design estimates the patio would span two parking spots and host four tables of four people at a time.
An added factor in deciding to install a patio is it would most likely be active for about five months and there is no guarantee how many nice days would be available for guests to enjoy sitting outside.
“We never thought about the weather before … It’s a new frontier,” Thind said.
It is challenging to commit to a path forward, he said, as the pandemic has shown the future is unpredictable. Thind said it would be heartbreaking to invest in a new patio only to see it shut down if health measures once again change for restaurants.
The Venue Bar and Grill manager Joanne Daviduk said COVID-19 has continually forced restaurants to adapt their services to meet stringent health measures. This has involved removing tables, adding Plexiglas barriers, providing hand sanitizer and other initiatives to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers.
“We spent a lot of money inside the bar [on health measures],” Daviduk said. “It upsets me to know we have all that money and time we invested and now we’re getting pushed outside.”
The Venue had been planning on building a patio on the east side of the building before the pandemic, but put the idea on ice during the pandemic because of the unpredictable economic impacts of COVID-19.
Staff at the restaurant were taken aback by the latest closure of indoor dining at restaurants, Daviduk said, explaining the past year has been an experience of whiplash with the opening and closing of in-person dining.
“I’m struggling a bit with the lack of preparation that we got given to us and now just trying to scramble to get everything,” Daviduk said. “I don’t know if moving outside is the answer, but it is what it is.”
She praised the Town of Cochrane for quickly finding ways to support restaurants.
The Venue has already begun construction on its patio and will slowly open it in stages. Daviduk said they currently anticipate opening the patio Thursday (April 15) and running it from Noon to 8 p.m.
The fire marshal has visited the proposed site for the patio and they are now awaiting the final word on customer capacity limits.
It has been hard work preparing a patio, she added, given the limited resources available to restaurants as all are looking to create patios of their own.
She is unsure of the estimated cost of the patio as they will have to rent screens for the site and are hoping for a company sponsorship to help make it a financially viable option.
Another logistical hurdle is finding staffing for The Venue's patio.
Due to the uncertainty created by the opening and closing of restaurants in the province it has been difficult to secure staff because work hours have been unstable, Daviduk said. This experience will be elevated by the unpredictability of the weather in Cochrane which will make it difficult to map out when the patio will be open.
“There’s a lot of unknowns on this, it’s about as clear as mud,” Daviduk said. “We’ve just been left scrambling.”
They are grateful to the Cochrane Ag Society and the Cochrane Lions Club who have helped The Venue secure items needed to open the patio. She also praised customers for the support and patience they have shown staff during the pandemic.
“I hope it goes good for us, I hope it goes good for everyone in Cochrane,” Daviduk said. “We’ve gone through this three times and we’ll do it again.”