Tofino expands service areas for restaurants to allow social distancing

Liquor laws eased as well.

As Tofino’s restaurants begin reopening after a lengthy absence brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, strict social distancing requirements mean they will need more space to serve their customers.

The town’s municipal council recently endorsed a recommendation brought forward by Tofino’s community sustainability manager Aaron Rodgers to allow businesses to temporarily expand their service areas into creative outdoor spaces, like turning parking areas into patios.

“The purpose of this is to support community economic recovery through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rodgers said. “We are going to see, most likely, fewer visitors to Tofino this summer and very strict social distancing requirements.”

In a report submitted to council on June 1, Rodgers wrote that while this summer’s tourism season is expected to be “significantly slower than previous years,” local businesses and tourism stakeholders are searching for ways to ensure Tofitian vacations remain enjoyable and memorable.

“In order for food and beverage businesses to have access to space to conduct their businesses safely, staff are proposing to allow the use of parking and setback areas for commercial uses such as patios and outdoor retail sales,” he wrote.

He added that the new zoning amendment would be temporary, expiring on Dec. 31 2020, and would

reduce time and costs for business owners compared to the district’s current practice of requiring each business to submit individual applications.

Coun. Dan Law said he supported the idea, but questioned whether allowing more outdoor dining would lead to an increase in noise complaints and asked whether Rodgers “had a contingency plan if those issues did arise.”

Rodgers responded that the district would rely on its current bylaws and follow up on any noise complaints that come in.

“I would expect that a business that wants to continue operating in a time where there’s going to be so little business would probably be looking to operate in a way that doesn’t upset the neighbours but, other than using the current bylaws, I don’t have any other ‘Plan B’s’ in my back pocket,” Rodgers said.

The district is also easing its local liquor laws to allow restaurants to serve alcohol in the newly expanded, socially distanced, seating areas until Oct. 31.

In a presentation to council on June 9, Tofino’s fire chief and manager of protective services Brent Baker said the amendment would allow any business with a current liquor licence to expand their service areas without submitting an application to the district.

Baker told the Westerly News after the meeting that removing the district’s application process would help local restaurants get up and running quicker.

“If you are needing to expand your space to meet the COVID-19 requirements, then you do not need to go through the municipality, it’s been pre-approved and the [Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch] will take it over from there, they’ve waived their fees and they’ll do it in a matter of days not months to get people rolling,” he said.

He added though, that any business not currently holding a licence would still be required to apply for one and all licence holders must continue to operate within their current seat-limits as the goal is to allow current seating to be more spaced out, not added to.

He doubted any local business owner will try to take advantage of the amendment to illegally expand their seating.

“The province has the liquor inspectors come around fairly often and I don’t think that people are going to take chances. It’s a big risk to get caught for one of those things, you can be closed down completely for a number of days and there are substantial fines,” he said.

“So, I like to believe that people are going to do what they can to support their businesses without taking unnecessary risks because there’s already been enough hardship and who can afford to miss another day?”

He added that he does not believe expanding outdoor liquor service would lead to increased alcohol consumption in public areas where it continues to be prohibited.

“If it’s an issue, it will definitely get addressed. There’s already a certain number of people that are consuming alcohol outside…Those things are always going to exist and it’s just something that you have to be consistent with in your messaging,” he said.

“I think, for the most part, people will recognize that this is a special circumstance and these are short-term steps taken to try and allow people to make their living in the way that they need to, but still do it in a respectful way.”

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READ MORE: Tofino plans ‘pop up’ outdoor dining area to support local restaurants

READ MORE: Tofino launches two COVID-19 task forces

READ MORE: District of Tofino slashes spending and taxation due to COVID-19

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