— We take our content seriously. This article was written by a real person at BREL.

(Updated June 2021)

As Ontario (finally!) begins to re-open, it’s time to get serious and support local businesses – our restaurants and shops need us! We’ve put together a list of 46 things you can do right now to help your neighbourhood recover (and they don’t all cost money).

  • Be nice – Your local restaurants and shops are doing their best to reinvent themselves after months of zero or near-zero income and unprecedented stress. It’ll take time to figure things out and they won’t always get it right. Don’t question what they’re doing or ask for substitutions, be difficult, moan or complain. Smile. Thank them for their efforts. Ask how you can support them. 
  • Tip well – You’ve waited a long time to eat in a restaurant. Put all the $$ you saved cooking at home to good use and tip generously. Usually tip 15%? If you can, tip 25-30%. 
  • Order direct – We love restaurant delivery services too, but every dollar counts, and sometimes that cut to Uber Eats represents a restaurant’s entire profit margin. Support local businesses instead of those who profit at their expense.
  • Be patient – Businesses are dealing with staff shortages, new employees, new processes and inventory issues. They may have run out of your favourite entree, they might get your order wrong, it might take longer-than-usual to serve you. But it’s hella better than cooking your own meal and doing the dishes, so be patient. 
  • Respect safety policies – Wear a mask and use hand sanitizer before entering a shop or restaurant. Don’t debate it, just do it. They’re looking out for their employees’ safety (and yours too).
  • Leave 5-star reviews – Reviews go a long way to helping local businesses attract new clients. You can leave reviews on Yelp, Google or Facebook – just make sure it’s a real review of a place you’ve actually frequented (fake reviews hurt them vs help). Be as detailed as you can: ‘Great restaurant and service’ isn’t that helpful – but 2 heartfelt paragraphs about what you love there and why can really make a difference. 
  • Not happy? Keep it to yourself. Now’s not the time to leave bad reviews, even if you had to wait in line or didn’t get what you ordered. Like my Mom used to say: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
  • Buy gift cards – Gift cards are a great way to give a cash injection and support local businesses if you don’t need their goods or services right away. 
  • Shop local online – You may be surprised to see how many small locally-owned businesses are now operating online. Because of Ontario’s phased-in re-opening, some restaurants or shops may not be able to alter their space or processes to be able to safely welcome people into their location until later this summer…support them by making purchases online.  
  • Donate to local charities – we love grassroots organizations like Troop, Romero House and the Parkdale Food Bank. Got one YOU love? Tell us and we’ll share it too.
  • Donate blood – Blood donor clinics are operating and in need. Find a blood clinic near you here.
  • Support your local BIA (Business Improvement Area) – Toronto has 80 BIA’s in 80 Toronto neighbourhoods, that help promote local businesses and beautify neighbourhoods. Follow your local BIA to see what’s going on in your neighbourhood.
  • Stalk your local haunts online – Follow your favourite restaurants, shops and services on Facebook and Instagram. 
  • Don’t stop at a ‘like’ or ‘follow’!  Like, comment and share their content with your friends and followers. Help spread the word and introduce them to new customers. 
  • Help your actual neighbours directly. Don’t know where to start? Try Nextdoor to see what people need, or join your community Facebook group.
  • Support the arts – Even better, hire them for a gig—virtually or as small gatherings are allowed, in real life. Check out Gigsalad for a zillion freelancers, from magicians to comedians.
  • Support independent musicians – Unfortunately, it’ll be a while before big live music and concerts come back. You can support local musicians by participating in their live Facebook or Instagram streaming and donating directly. Or hire them (see #16). Need a bagpiper? Check.
  • Drink local. The LCBO has kept us alive, but Ontario has a TON of excellent beer and wine producers who are more than happy to deliver or ship to your door. Order direct and support the booze makers that made lockdown bearable. Don’t know where to start? Try these: Ontario Beer Delivery Index, Beerfinder, Blog TO’s list of Toronto Beer delivery options, or this handy spreadsheet; Ontario cideries that offer delivery; here’s a fun shortlist of wine delivery options, and here’s a comprehensive Canadian winery list you can order from, plus most Prince Edward County wineries will deliver. Last but not least, here are Ontario craft spirit producers that offer delivery.
  • Can’t wait? Most of your fave restaurants will sell you booze along with food pickup. (Trust me, they feel the loss of alcohol margins.) A bottle to pair with your takeout might be one of the best side effects of the pandemic. Some even sell pre-made cocktails or cocktail kits!
  • Embrace online classes and experiences – The return of local experiences and classes will be gradual, but you may be able to enjoy them virtually in the meantime.
  • Choose local groceries over big brands – While Loblaws, Metro and Costco may have been your go-to’s during the lockdown, it’s time to take your grocery business to your local shops: your local bakery, butcher, cheese shop and farmer’s market need you. 
  • Shop local for clothes, furniture and housewares too – Take a break from shopping at Amazon or Wayfair – there are tons of great shops in your neighbourhood that won’t survive without your business.  
  • Treat yourself – If, like us, you’ve been cooped up during the lockdown, it’s finally time to pamper yourself. You’ve earned it! Get a mani/pedi, buy yourself some flowers, splurge on some fancy chocolates or get a massage. 
  • Surprise someone – The pandemic has been HARD. Who do you know who needs a pick-me-up? The Giftagram app partners with local shops and does all the heavy lifting for you. Just log in, select a gift, enter the recipient’s email address and they’ll take care of the rest. 
  • Make reservations – Everyone is looking forward to getting out, whether that’s to dine on a patio or get a haircut. Crowds and line-ups are still a no-no, so call and reserve in advance – and show up! No-shows cost restaurants much-needed business. 
  • Don’t linger – unless you’re spending money. Now is not the time to WFH on a patio for 3 hours while sipping 2 coffees or beer. Drink, eat and move on. Restricted capacity means restaurants need to maximize the number of people they serve at the limited tables and maximize the $$ each client spends. We’re officially giving you permission to order the appetizer, the soup, the salad, the entree, a dessert, cocktails and the wine pairing. 
  • If you received government $$ and don’t need it, spend it, don’t save it. Some of the child and senior COVID benefits weren’t geared to income, so if you weren’t negatively affected financially during the pandemic, use those funds to support your local businesses or donate them to those in need. 
  • Adopt, Don’t Shop – The dogs and cats need us too, as many shelters and rescue organizations weren’t able to operate during the lockdown. A lot of dogs are making their way up north from high-kill shelters in the US and they need us. Nothing better than a furry companion to help eas you out of the pandemic. Can’t commit full time? Consider fostering a dog or cat to bridge the time between rescue and adoption. 
  • Support the artisans. Whether you’re buying direct or via Etsy, a lot of artists didn’t qualify for the CERB and need your support. 
  • Outsource! I know, you’ve been doing everything for yourself these past few months, but if you can afford to, it’s time to outsource. Hire a cleaner, gardener, dog walker, groomer, errand-runner, BBQ-cleaner and more. Check out our outsourcing blogs for ideas!
  • Practice physical distancing in your neighbourhood, wash your hands often and wear a mask. The last thing your local businesses need is yet another lockdown, so do your part to stop this virus from spreading. 
  • Keep ordering takeout and delivery – Some restos have permanently changed their business models, so keep on supporting them. 
  • Unpause your memberships  – A lot of gyms and businesses gave their customers the option to pause memberships – if you can, it’s time to unpause. 
  • Refer your friends and families to the businesses you love – Very few self-employed workers weren’t impacted by the pandemic, so take this opportunity to share the love you have for your cleaner, your handyman (and of course, your REALTOR) directly with friends and family. 
  • Contribute to crowd-sourcing fundraising and petitions – Many local organizations have turned to Go Fund Me for help or have asked their fans for help convincing their landlords to give them a break on rent. It’s not easy to ask for help, so if you can, support them. 
  • Share your knowledge and skills – If you work in marketing, digital or tech, your local restaurants and shops might really benefit from your help. They are juggling a lot of balls right now and a lot of this online/virtual world may be new to them. If they seem to be struggling with something you can help with, consider (gently) reaching out to the owner to see if you can assist. 
  • Stock up on supplies – I’m not just talking about toilet paper and yeast…but if you have the $$, consider buying more than you need to help inject much-needed cash into your local stores to help them get back on their feet. 
  • Don’t use your gift cards yet – If you supported your neighbourhood restos and shops and bought gift cards when the pandemic hit, awesome….but consider holding off using them right away. They’ve got a lot of start-up expenses and would probably prefer you hold off a few months before using them. 
  • Take credit, not a refund – Cash is king right now. Support local businesses in their efforts to conserve cash by taking a credit or a rain check on that cancelled trip or reservation, vs asking for a refund.
  • Be nice to your neighbours! I’ve heard too many stories of passive-aggressive interactions between neighbours. Protect yourself and avoid the urge to judge and attack what others are doing (and yes, this counts online too). Our neighbourhoods aren’t just a collection of businesses, streets and parks – they’re a collection of people. We’re all tired of the pandemic. How we treat each other will go a long way to helping rebuild what we’ve lost. 
  • Don’t be a time-waster – Businesses and service providers need to focus their time and efforts on paying customers right now, so do your research online and be respectful of your everybody’s time. It’s not the time to be a lookie-loo or ask the waiter 20 questions about how something is prepared. 
  •  Remember the people and service providers who were there for YOU during the pandemic (and those who were not) whether they risked their own health to provide essential services or were a source of information, comic-relief, help or support. I know we found support in places we didn’t expect and were let down by people we used to count on – and our future loyalties will reflect that. 
  • Pay cash if it’s an option (and don’t ask for change). Credit card companies take a % of each sale in exchange for the convenience, so if a store or restaurant is accepting cash, do it. Help reduce contact by not requiring change too – I paid $40 cash for a $31 purchase last week and I think it was appreciated. 
  • Don’t browse without buying – I know you’ve missed shopping, but stores have capacity limits well below what they are used to, so get in, buy what you need and get out. Save your browsing for the internet. 
  • Take a tour! Small-group tours will soon be back in business and since Toronto isn’t likely to see the usual hordes of tourists this summer, consider being a tourist right here in the city. We’re big fans of the neighbourhood foodie tours!
  • Live your life! The best way to support local businesses is to live your life. Do it safely and follow the rules – but get out there and make summer 2021 one to remember.


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