Vancouver’s ‘temporary’ restaurant patios likely here to stay

Vancouver embraced outdoor patios in response to COVID-19 restrictions, now they may be here to stay

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On hundreds of Vancouver‘s commercial streets, there are patios marked off by garden lattices or brightly painted fencing. Some have picnic benches, some are heated, others are tented, some allow pets, but nearly all share one trait — they are full.

The City of Vancouver’s temporary expedited patio program, which launched last June, may not be temporary for much longer thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response from the public and restaurants.

Scott Edwards, manager of street use management for the City of Vancouver, said that although the program is slated to end on Oct. 31, “It’s been very successful, and we want to build upon that success and bring it back in subsequent years.”

Edwards said that in the fall there will be a report to council to look at “lessons learned,” and although no decision has yet been made as to whether the patios will be a seasonal or year-round program, they will most likely remain.


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He calls the popularity of the program staggering.

When the program started last summer to offset the restricted indoor occupancy of restaurants, many businesses didn’t explore the option.

Patios on Main Street in Vancouver on June 8, 2021.
Patios on Main Street in Vancouver on June 8, 2021. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

“In the early days of COVID, no one knew what was really going on or how long it might last,” said Edwards. Applications increased gradually through the summer as businesses made adjustments, but most were removed during the winter.

However, when council approved another round of free temporary patio summer permits, running from April to October 2021, the third wave was underway, and the response was huge.

“Hundreds applied,” said Edwards.

There are now about 160 new temporary patios on private property, 475 on public property such as sidewalks or curbsides (some businesses have more than one), nearly double the 300 licensed sidewalk patios, and 200 small (unlicensed) patios that existed pre-COVID.

“It’s been hugely successful,” said Edwards. “A patio culture has emerged that adds vibrancy to our streets, and it’s a great legacy for us to build on.”

Patio at the The Roof at Black and Blue in Vancouver on June 8, 2021.
Patio at the The Roof at Black and Blue in Vancouver on June 8, 2021. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Challenges to the city are mostly in the realm of “balancing the use of public space,” said Edwards — loading zones, parking, retention of sidewalk space, and maintaining the “temporary nature and design” of the patios so they can be easily removed to accommodate construction or utility work. Any loss of parking revenue hasn’t been studied, said Edwards.

Edwards credits Vancouver’s business improvement associations for their help in conceiving the program, and the provincial government for its flexibility and responsiveness around liquor licensing.


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Jane McFadden, executive director of the West 4th Avenue Business Improvement Association, said she is delighted to see the culture shift in Vancouver, and how last summer’s temporary patios that were often “makeshift” have become more creative, with options that include charming, European-style sidewalk tables, hideaways like Bimini’s Beer Hall’s back-alley patio, and playful ones, such as the mini-putt golf course patio at Keefer Yard. 

“We are a patio city for the first time,” said McFadden. “People are embracing it, and patios are getting more sophisticated, more innovative, and more fun.”

Indoor patio at the The Keefer Yard in Vancouver on June 8, 2021.
Indoor patio at the The Keefer Yard in Vancouver on June 8, 2021. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

To celebrate, the Vancouver BIA recently lauched @patiovancouver, with a website that links to a map of the City of Vancouver’s 476 patios and is searchable for options like pet-friendly, covered, or heated.

There is also a month-long social media campaign with daily prizes. Vancoverites can vote on questions such as what their favourite patio to people-watch on, most romantic, or best view, said McFadden. There are daily prizes from Philips Brewery, as well as weekly prizes worth $100 to $500 from the BIAs.

The Vancouver BIA is also working with StayVancouverHotels. to promote “staycations.”

“Book a night at a participating hotel between June 15 and July 31 to receive a $50 Visa patio card, and an additional $20 from the participating restaurant,” said McFadden.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Association, said patios have been a “game changer” for food establishments after COVID-19 triggered restrictions on indoor dining capacity, and will be critical to long-term recovery of the industry as part of a new, more-diverse business model.

“(Dr. Bonnie Henry) said patios were logical because it was important to be outside. But people have developed a new appreciation for them. The restaurant of the future will have great take-out and delivery, indoor dining, and patios.”

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