REGINA -- Some downtown restaurants in Regina are exploring the idea of possibly expanding their patios past the curbside this summer as a way to maintain business while keeping customers safe.

The expansions could help restaurants thrive, especially when many have taken a hit financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Judith Veresuk, the executive director of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District.

“I think everyone is looking for that open-air experience right now. People feel safer being with other folks if they aren’t in an enclosed space,” Veresuk said. “As the weather gets better and more people come downtown, the patio is the place you’re going to want to be.”

The Fat Badger on Scarth Street recently doubled its patio space after receiving permits.

David Waller, the owner and operator of the pub, said the expansion allows the restaurant to maintain seating capacity.

The restaurant would have had half the capacity if it didn’t expand, he explained, because customers are required to be two metres apart.

“The bigger patio creates a little more energy downtown,” he said. “People can still feel part of a community but they are socially distanced and safer.”

The Fat Badger patio

Veresuk said other restaurants may be expanding their patios, though many are still undecided.

Greg Hooker, co-owner of Victoria's Tavern, said it doesn’t make sense yet to expand the patio because of the lower foot traffic.

He said an expansion might make sense when people begin working downtown again.

Chris Cole, owner and chef of Gud Eats, said the restaurant will likely invest in a patio space next summer.

He said it’s not an easy process to rent parking space from the city.

“With COVID-19 happening, I think the city should do everything it can to make this successful for businesses,” he said.

Veresuk said a city bylaw allows restaurants to extend patios past the curb line on a case-by-case basis, as long as they can maintain a pedestrian walkway.

She said the business improvement district has worked with restaurants, letting them know they can take advantage of the opportunity.

As well, it has worked with the city to waiver patio fees this year, she added.

Saskatoon city council recently approved a motion that can allow businesses on Broadway Avenue to use one or two parking spots in front of their stores.

Veresuk said she hopes people support restaurants across the city.

“They are really in a tough spot right now and they are doing their best to stay in business,” she said. “We need that support for local businesses throughout the city.”