For Restaurants, Outdoor Dining Merely A Stopgap

Food & Drink

As cities begin to open back up in the U.S., social distancing requirements remain in effect in hopes of preventing a rebound of COVID-19 infections. Some cities are dedicating full streets and sidewalks to enable extended outdoor restaurant seating, but more crowded metropolitan areas may run into trouble finding space for diners. One architect recently created an outdoor dining template for restaurants to make use of the limited street and sidewalk space in New York City.

David Rockwell, an architect who has designed prominent Las Vegas nightclubs and famous NYC restaurants, came up with a prototype for outdoor, socially distanced dining that can be easily and inexpensively implemented in a variety of outdoor urban settings, according to Bloomberg. The blueprint is adaptable to restaurants on corners, adjacent to bike lines and along parking lanes, and is meant to be easily scalable.

Though such turnkey solutions may ease and improve the outdoor dining experience, many of the experts on the RetailWire BrainTrust saw outdoor dining as only solving part of the problem. 

“Outdoor dining will help create more capacity for those restaurants that have the time and money to create suitable outdoor eating space, but it’s not a panacea,” wrote Mark Ryski, CEO of Headcount Corporation. 

“Like so many solutions they are experimenting with, this is an arrow in the quiver,” wrote Laura Davis-Taylor, chief strategy officer at InReality. “If the location is suited for it, great. Is it a standalone fix? Nope. They still need more delivery, BOPIS/curbside pickup, family meal solutions and other such supplemental strategies.”

“Providing outdoor dining now is an excellent first step for businesses who are doing their best to survive and is undoubtedly a bump up from take-out only, which is what restaurants have been limited to, but we need to get back to indoor dining as soon as possible,” wrote Art Suriano, CEO of the TSi Corporation.

“Outdoor dining helps, but unless the outdoor space is bigger than the traditional indoor space — and the weather holds out — this is just a supplement to the typical restaurant’s revenue,” wrote Shep Hyken, chief amazement officer at Shepard Presentations. 

Some of the U.S. states most impacted by coronavirus have slowly begun the reopening process after months of lockdown, and setting up dining exclusively outdoors is consistently a stipulation in state reopening plans. New Jersey, for instance, intends to begin allowing outdoor dining on June 15 as it enters the second phase of its reopening plan, according to CNBC.

The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic. In March, when the pandemic first swept the U.S., restaurants were forced to go carry-out/pickup only, markedly reducing the amount of business they could conduct. In April, some were able to increase their offerings by selling groceries for pickup as the nation faced food shortages and supply chain breakdowns.

There has been speculation that many restaurants will not reopen after the end of the pandemic, and some restaurateurs have expressed concern that continuing social distancing restrictions will prevent them from making a profit if they do.

In fact one RetailWire BrainTrust panelist noted that the effectiveness of an outdoor eating strategy would not be hampered by lack of willingness on the part of customers.

“Will consumers find this appealing?” wrote Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research. “Yes. Will restaurant owners turn a profit? Probably not.”

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