Outdoor dining has always been an attractive option for diners, but with the current state of the world, it’s become one crucial undertaking that’s helped struggling restaurants. Restaurants across the country have had to adjust to new ways of doing business. For some cities, that’s meant allowing restaurants to offer outdoor dining in spaces where it hasn’t been available before. Once the worst of the pandemic has passed and our lives return back to normal, will those businesses keep that option open?
Outdoor Dining Structures
The restaurants with outdoor dining are easy to pick out. You’ve no doubt seen the variety of structures set up on downtown sidewalks in front of restaurants. Domes, yurts, tents, greenhouses, pods…..a variety of small buildings complete with ductwork, electricity, heat, even TV sets. They’re outdoor VIP lounges and customers – especially eager to get out of their houses – love them. But are they safe?
The availability of restaurants with outdoor dining has been one of the biggest factors in customers returning to in-person eating. But it’s worth remembering that outdoor seating is not the cure-all for COVID-related issues with eating in public. Not all of these outdoor structures circulate air effectively to prevent airborne transmission of disease. And with restaurants occupying more sidewalk and street space, the potential for traffic accidents increases.
Where the regulation of restaurants with outdoor dining is a bit of a wild west, customers will need to assess for themselves if a business seems to be following proper safety protocols. That means seeing if they keep diners distanced and space clean. The rise of restaurant technology that prioritizes contactless dining is a good sign as well.
New laws for Outdoor Dining
So what is the safest and most law-abiding way for a restaurant with an outdoor offering to operate? As one hospitality designer put it: “There isn’t a single cohesive guideline for the way that restaurants or food-service operators can behave responsibly both with indoor and outdoor dining…The guidelines in New York are very clear. The guidelines in other places are mud.” New York City does have clear guidelines for these restaurants with outdoor offerings: the city only allows one-table structures with adequate ventilation. Philadelphia restaurant customers can eat outdoors, but only with other members of their household (how this is confirmed is unclear).
For a restaurant investing in these potentially pricey structures, that can be problematic if they’re later found to be illegal. The law has had to act quickly during the pandemic to attempt to regulate restaurants with outdoor seating. This has meant relaxing restrictions in some areas, like in Denver where guidelines are softened until October 2021.
Concerns about public health and safety will not go away once the pandemic has ended. That means restaurants with outdoor dining will no doubt continue to grow and adapt to make patrons feel safe and secure. The restaurant industry, like everything else, will never be the same.
Will outdoor dining become permanent?
Most likely yes. All restaurants have had to evolve due to the pandemic. As long as those changes serve customers’ needs, they will remain.
How is outdoor dining evolving?
Restaurants with outdoor seating options have used elaborate structures designed to keep customers safe and just as comfortable as they’d be indoors.