Restaurants around the world have taken advantage of the pandemic to open their doors to outdoor dining, maybe permanently, with the permission of state and local laws. The sidewalk, owned by the city, was graciously turned over to restauranteurs during the pandemic so they could try to turn a profit and stay afloat. Over the years, allowing outdoor dining has certainly saved many a restaurant from caving in under the woes of the pandemic. Looking ahead, especially in larger cites such as NYC and LA, restaurant owners are in talks with city officials and neighborhood groups to allow this trend to continue, maybe forever.
Some background: when outdoor dining was given the green light to allow restaurants to open their doors to the public in a safer way then indoor dining offered, many municipalities had to bend over backwards to enable these new laws to happen.
Hence, in a bid to help restaurants, coffee shops, pizzerias, ice cream parlors, and bars stay open during the pandemic, city officials around the world collaborated with restaurateurs to open up the streets to outdoor dining.
Benefits of Outdoor Dining
Outdoor dining is attractive for customers, and a boon to restaurant owners as it adds more space to their dining facilities without much investment. For areas, such as NYC, 12,000 permits were granted for outdoor dining, with half of those being in NYC itself, offering restaurant owners more opportunities to bring in income than they ever had. With many restaurants still struggling to get back on their feet, outdoor dining is a welcome addition to the traditional
Post-With what some are predicting might be one of the greatest boons in recent restaurant industry history, a growing number of U.S. states and European countries have begun planning and implementing their outdoor dining strategy.
Case in point: Vilinus, the capital of Lithuania. officials are turning the outdoor space into a giant open-air café by allowing restaurants and bars to set up tables outside free of charge. According to Vilnius’s mayor, the public has welcomed the move with “great enthusiasm.”
Expect a Proliferation of Outdoor Eating Spaces
In the U.S., authorities in a growing number of cities and states, including New York, Florida, Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco’s Bay Area, South Carolina, California, and more, are exploring the logistics of turning parking lots into outdoor cafés, as well as rerouting bus routes and clearing vehicular traffic to make way for public eating spaces. In many locales, the proposed plans include waiving sidewalk café fees and permits to help restaurant owners’ recovery plans. At the same time, they aim to answer consumers’ clamor for foodservice and to bring life back to the city – safely.
As COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions continue to be lifted, governments are also coming to the rescue of their local foodservice sector with gratuitous initiatives such as advocating for looser restrictions on alcohol permits and letting restaurants set up their ‘biz in spaces that are not normally slated for seating. such as empty stadiums. The proposals, in turn, are part of what is being called the ‘post-corona rapid activation of commercial streets’ wherein outdoor commerce of all kinds is expected to boom.
The measures are being championed by hospitality professionals as “coming just in time,” while a growing number of business leaders predict not only a proliferation of outdoor commerce in the weeks and months ahead, but a scenario where the model has become a permanent fixture
Keep Your Restaurant on the Map with Outdoor Seating
So how can you ensure that your restaurant is part of the outdoor seating movement? Begin by investing in some topnotch outdoor patio furniture and dining sets, including paraphernalia that protects customers from the elements (i.e. sun glare, extreme heat, rain, wind). Next, don your creative chef’s hat and start imagining how your foodservice can stand out from the pack and how you will entice customers to bring their business directly to your establishment.
Finally, market your restaurant’s outdoor space with a vengeance. Shout it from the rooftops, sing it from the balcony, announce it from the streets, or promote it from the beachfront, porch, terrace, or garden. Think of outdoor gardens in full bloom, sidewalk tables adorned with pretty parasols and umbrellas, balcony side breakfasts and buffets, al-fresco dining under the stars, moonlight drinks and music on your rooftop bar, and backyard catering under protective tents. Add some soft spotlights or lanterns, perhaps a fountain and some garden statues – and voila!
To help you out, here are some insiders’ tips and strategies for outdoor dining:
- To help your food or beverage service consider making reservations a central part of the outdoor dining experience. Offer advanced reservation bookings online with options for secure cashless prepayments (i.e. credit card)
- Consider opening up for business earlier, inviting families, in particular, to come in for dinner between 4 or 5 p.m. Adding the extra time slot will increase your profits and with advanced registration, your staff will know ahead of time the size of the expected party and be able to set up appropriately.
- Design and mark out your new outdoor dining space with appropriate social distancing between tables, and add some restaurant safety partitions at strategic points.
- Sterilize! Insist that your employees comply with mandated hygiene practices (i.e. frequent handwashing, the donning of face masks and/or disposable gloves when applicable, and cleaning restaurant surfaces and door handles between each seating session).
- Keep your restrooms clean and sanitized, providing fresh paper towels and hand sanitizers for guests.
- Print and laminate menus should be thoroughly cleaned before and after each use. At the same time, continue to update your online menu offerings.
- Say goodbye to communal table-top condiments (i.e. shared sugar and salt shakers, ketchup bottles, soy sauce bottles) and hello to single-portion disposable condiment packets.
Takeout Lives On
However, what if you are among the over 70% of restaurateurs who survived corona by transforming your brick-and-mortar business into a solely takeout and delivery service? Here is the great news: Experts predict that takeout will not only live on, but that the now-prolific business model will remain strong in the short-term and may even become a permanent fixture in the industry for the long-term. Expect to continue remote ordering, drive-through and curbside pickups, and contactless food deliveries in the future.
Furthermore, according to Wes Lambert, the CEO of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, takeout is not the only successful corona survival strategy that has kept income flowing and that has gained a foothold. Also expected to ‘live on’ are business paradigms such as selling groceries, providing high-end takeout, offering online cooking classes, and selling do-it-yourself meal kits.
Create an Irresistible Outdoor Menu
Finally, don’t forget to top everything off with the very reason consumers are knocking at your door to begin with: An irresistible menu that features your customers’ longtime favorite dishes and your chef’s latest and greatest meal and dessert offerings.
So as you pull back the curtains, open your front and back doors, and head outside, use your restaurant’s outdoor furnishings to create an equally compelling eating space that will attract traffic in droves and make your outdoor dining experience, a visit to remember.