WINDSOR, ONT. -- A new proposal to City Hall looks to establish “Outdoor Food Halls” in Windsor to help restaurants suffering through the COVID-19 lockdown regain some revenue.

On Wednesday, WindsorEats submitted its proposal for Lanspeary Park to serve as the test site for an outdoor area where restaurants would be able to serve customers in a way fitting current public health guidelines.

“What we’re proposing and what we’ve submitted to the city is to make use of actual public city space — public parks and open areas that are owned by the city,” says Adriano Ciotoli, founder and co-owner of the hospitality marketing service.

In a survey done by WindsorEats with 483 respondents, 74 per cent still want to dine out once restaurants reopen and 75 per cent would prefer to dine outside.

Ciotoli feels the proposal is a workable solution for restaurants that are facing the prospect of going out of business altogether.

“It would just be a matter of working with the health unit to make sure that all health regulations, all restrictions are being followed,” says Ciotoli.

Those measures could include masked service staff, table-side hand sanitizer and disposable menus.

Pop-up patios

An idea restaurateurs and bar owners in Windsor-Essex are interested to see implemented locally is a move being made in Canada's west.

A city council decision in Calgary will allow bars and restaurants to setup temporary patios in areas like parking lots, streets or on sidewalks as of May 14 with the necessary permits.

“If we can get that patio and the size of it increased, we’re allowed to space people out — sure that’s going to be more helpful,” says Shane Meloche, co-owner of Frank Brewing Co. in Tecumseh.

Meloche says “patio season” in the summer months is a big driver of business. At a time when customers aren’t allowed inside due to public health regulations, moving outside presents a potential opportunity for revenue.

“A patio in the summer is a big part of your business,” says Meloche. “I can recall many nights over the years on Fridays and Saturdays where there’s no on inside but, the patio’s full.”

Ciotoli sees public food halls and pop-up patios as options that can help restaurants and taverns bounce back from one of the most difficult periods the hospitality industry has ever seen.

“They can work in conjunction together and be able to support the industry, that really was one of the bigger hit industries and earliest hit industries, kind of recoup some of those lost revenues,” says Ciotoli.

Street takeover

In Windsor’s Via Italia neighbourhood, another big idea is cooking.

Mezzo Ristorante President and Co-Owner Filip Rocca has floated the idea of closing down Erie Street through the district on Fridays and Saturdays to allow for restaurants to offer physically-distanced meals outside.

“I think it will look great. As you’re walking down the street you see about 10 tables outside of Mezzo, white tablecloth, fine dining in the beautiful weather,” says Rocca. “I think it’s going to go over really well.”

Rocca’s restaurant has experienced the same upheaval as Meloche with his operation.

Both have seen their staffing numbers drop from about 30 to less than five as a result of the pandemic-induced shutdown.

“We definitely need to try to make up some of that income that we lost and these summer months are really key for us to hopefully stay afloat the whole year,” says Rocca. “We need those Saturday nights.”

From outside food halls to a street takeover, many of the ideas being pursued by local restauranteurs haven’t yet been given the green light.

However, Rocca is hoping city and public health officials are receptive to the plans.

“I’m hoping that they will be, if not, they’re going to see a lot of businesses close, that’s for sure,” says Rocca.

As part of the outdoor food hall proposal, WindsorEats is requesting to use a host park for three to five days a week and have the city waive permit fees to use the park.

Other potential sites included in the proposal are Jackson Park, Mic Mac Park, and Forest Glade Optimist Park.