While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a serious concern, some states have managed to make enough progress that certain restrictions are being lifted. Restaurants are once again welcoming guests, although many are operating at limited capacity and not allowing indoor dining. This has made outdoor dining a popular option, especially as cities are letting businesses place tables on sidewalks, parking lots and other outdoor areas in order to maximize safety. However, outdoor dining does present new challenges and risks to consumers that they should take into consideration.
Traffic Concerns and Outdoor Dining
Restaurants and bars have been some of the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic. Cities have been trying to work with the restaurant industry to try to find ways for them to earn revenue so that they don’t have to close their doors permanently. This has resulted in relaxed restrictions when it comes to outdoor dining and there are more tables on sidewalks and in parking lots. Unfortunately, this has resulted in dangerous accidents where cars have driven into outdoor dining spaces.
According to the Storefront Safety Council, there have been 20 recorded instances of situations where cars have hit dining areas over just an eight week period. Compare that to just four incidents in the previous eight years. While outdoor dining may help curtail COVID-19, restaurants need to take additional precautions to protect guests as they dine outdoors and close to traffic.
Some restaurants have taken action to protect their customers. Businesses are putting up water filled barriers, concrete walls, metal fences and other protections. At the same time, some cities are advocating for further actions that would put more distance between outdoor diners and cars. This includes creating a “protected lane” that would work much like a bike lane and allowing for a row of parking along restaurants.
Demographics with High Risk
While outdoor dining is safer than some alternatives, there are certain demographics that should still use extreme caution when considering visiting a restaurant. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified portions of the populations that are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. These include:
- Pregnant women
- Patients with asthma
- People with a BMI of 30+ (This includes 42% of the US population)
- Anyone with diabetes, immune disorders and heart, lung or kidney disease
People with one or more of these risk factors should avoid visiting restaurants even if outdoor dining is an option.
Is it Safe to Eat at Restaurants?
Taking into account existing risks associated with COVID-19 and new risks brought about by outdoor dining, it can be difficult to know whether it is safe to eat at restaurants. When it comes to indoor dining, restaurants must ensure that ventilations systems are fully operational and constantly feeding outdoor air into the establishment. If possible, it is also a good idea to open doors and windows and expand outdoor seating.
With outdoor dining, restaurants still need to follow safety protocols and take extra measures to protect customers from cars. Customers who are in high-risk categories should stay home until the pandemic conditions improve.
Take out orders and outdoor dining are becoming increasingly popular options as restaurants try to find ways to improve safety and still stay open. While outdoor dining is relatively safe, it does come with certain risks. It is up to restaurants to recognize and mitigate new risks as they emerge.
As such, bars and restaurants have started implementing technology solutions that prioritize public health and safety. Many restaurants are switching to digital menus and mobile ordering systems in an effort to reduce physical touchpoints. With new advancements, customers can now use a mobile app to access a bar or restaurant’s menu, place their order, checkout and pay all without having to touch a traditional menu, checkholder, or pen.
What is the safest way to eat at a restaurant during Covid-19?
If you are eating indoors, it is important that the restaurant has a proper ventilation system that can effectively circulate air. When possible, outdoor dining is the safest option.
Are there risks to expanded outdoor dining?
Yes, moving outdoor tables to sidewalks, parking lots and other green spaces has resulted in more cars hitting diners.
Who should avoid dining at a restaurant, even if it’s outdoors?
Anyone who is part of a high risk category as identified by the CDC should avoid eating at restaurants even if outdoor dining is an option.