Restaurant owners are livid the city has decided to charge a fee for a temporary patio permit — a service that used to be free.
The permits, initially announced last spring as a four-week program to welcome back customers after the province rolled back its initial COVID-19 restrictions, will cost $500.
Start-up city fees for a permanent patio permit can range from $1,200 to $2,300, a city spokesperson said, adding the $500 fee still subsidizes the cost associated with operating a patio registration program.
The cash that’s collected is meant to partially cover the cost of processing applications, conducting audits and any enforcement, the spokesperson said.
Scot McTaggart, the owner of Academy Road’s Fusion Grill, characterized the new fee as a cash grab that won’t do any favours to the struggling industry.
He’s seen a 60 to 80 per cent drop in sales since the pandemic and its associated restrictions began last year.
"What else could it be? The people that opened the temporary patios, it made the city vibrant in a time we were anything else but, with the pandemic. I don’t know why the city wouldn’t embrace the idea of making Winnipeg ‘patio city’, taking it, embracing it," he said.
He’s not sure he’ll put in a temporary patio again, as he did last summer, if it’s going to cost him this time around.
"We certainly have a lot of people asking and hoping that we’ll put a patio up again, but now I’m going to have to reconsider," McTaggart said. "I built the patio last year — $260 it cost me... we put that together at a cost. I took it all down very carefully so that I could use all of that material again."
He called the initial program progressive, but the move to charge a fee short-sighted. He said offering free, temporary patio permits could help entice visitors from rural Manitoba and elsewhere, once restrictions are relaxed and travel is safe.
Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association executive director Shaun Jeffrey was angry when he learned about the permit fee, calling it a slap in the face.
"It’s just mind-blowing, how the City of Winnipeg can look at our industry, an industry that has been closed a combined five-and-a-half months during this time, and expect (us) to be able to viably be able to pay for this," he said.
Jeffrey pointed to a deferred fee as a potential compromise.
"We would love it for free, but at least defer (it) until we’re actually open again. We’re not even open yet."
He argued the city hasn’t done enough consultation with his industry during the pandemic.
"The lack of collaboration, the lack of availability for us to be able to share data, share feedback with what’s been happening in our industry with the City of Winnipeg has been a very sore spot in this last 12 months," he said.
The mayor’s office disputed that claim.
The owner of Little Brown Jug Brewing Company still plans to apply for its temporary patio permit again, despite the cost.
"It’s likely we’ll go forward with doing it, regardless of the fee," general manager Chantal Hogue said.
The Exchange District microbrewery has a permanent patio, but the temporary expansion allowed it to serve 25 to 50 more guests last summer, depending on COVID-19 health orders.
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.