‘The blood’s flowing again’: Toronto restaurants prepare for reopening blowout, just as Euro soccer starts

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Friday might be the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for restaurants in Toronto. It marks the return of patio dining to the city. The restaurant reopening coincides with the start of the European Football Championship, a massive sporting event and big draw for patrons in the city.

“The blood’s flowing again,” said Rocco Mastrangelo, owner of Café Diplomatico in Toronto’s Little Italy. Reservations, only available to people watching the (first) game (Italy vs. Turkey), were fully booked at the restaurant by Wednesday, he said.

“It’s going to be a great reopening.”

It’s been a brutal year for restaurants in Toronto. From the beginning, the pandemic decimated the industry and whiplash lockdown restriction changes from the province piled on further hurt.

The reopening was initially scheduled for June 14, but was pushed forward after an announcement Monday.

Social-distancing rules, which limit tables to four people maximum and require they be spaced out at least six feet from each other, have cut Diplomatico’s patio capacity from 117 to about 70. Still, it’s a far better than zero.

“Soccer’s part of our business model,” said Mastrangelo. “It’s a huge draw and we do big promotions for it — not this year, though, obviously, because we didn’t know we were going to be open for it.”

Normally, there would be a street party to accompany the game.

Italy’s team is playing, which would add to the fanfare in the neighbourhood.

Dave Auger, general manager of 817 Sports Bar & Grill near Queen and Bathurst, said, since reopening was announced, the restaurant’s phone has been ringing off the hook.

“We have customers calling us, texting us, Instagram, live-messaging, emailing — all wanting to watch the game,” he said. “They can’t wait to watch the game on the patio.”

Auger said it’s been overwhelming; 817 has limited patio space and just five of its six tables have a view of the TV screen. Next week, the addition of a plexiglass divider will bump the patio to nine tables, but not in time for the big game.

“It’s going to be tough; people are going to be lining up for seats and trying to watch the game on the sidewalk,” said Auger. “We’re going to have to control the distancing out there. That’s going to a nightmare.