Can outdoor dining save restaurants?

Discussion
Rendering: Rockwell Group
Jun 03, 2020
Matthew Stern

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.

Some of the U.S. states hit hardest 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.

It is also not yet known if cities will require further lockdowns. Healthcare professionals have expressed worry that recent protests and riots sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer will unintentionally lead to spikes in COVID-19 infections.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see outdoor dining as a viable response to seating restrictions imposed on restaurants to maintain social distancing between patrons and staff? Will outdoor dining remain a prominent feature of restaurants after coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Outdoor dining might provide a bridge to full recovery, but it's not a long-term solution until restaurants can reopen at full capacity indoors."
"Just another step in the fight for survival."
"Climate is a key factor here. Too hot or too cold and people will wish to sit inside."

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27 Comments on "Can outdoor dining save restaurants?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

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. Many restaurant operators are already financially compromised, so finding the money to expand will be problematic. Next, the rules around city ordinances regarding outdoor space need to be navigated. This can be a slow process at the best of times, and it’s likely even worse as government agencies struggle with their own diminished productivity. Lastly, is the weather. Outdoor dining is fine when the weather is agreeable, but it won’t do much good on rainy days or in the winter.

Art Suriano
Guest

Outdoor dining is an excellent opportunity, and the many restaurants that provided that service long before COVID-19 have done well with it. However, it is not significant enough to replace the profit of indoor dining; it won’t even be close. 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. Even when that happens, the number of restaurants that will be closed permanently will be very high, which is most unfortunate.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

From what I have seen, outdoor dining has its own occupancy constraints apart from the inside occupancy limits. As I have seen in my area, those restaurants that have outdoor seating have been almost at 100 percent capacity based on state/local requirements. I think people were ready to get out in the fresh air after being quarantined for many months. I hope it will be an added feature that will help save many restaurants that are on the brink.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining gets partially there. Under regular circumstances, as weather improves each year, sidewalk dining is extraordinarily popular. Under normal circumstances, I would love to see the dining expanded into the street.

To me, it should have been done at the beginning of the pandemic. What would be wrong with taking out your food and simply going to a table outside of the restaurant-as long as you are socially distanced?

Hopefully, as NYC starts to open up, this is considered.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

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. The issue is that it’s still fewer guests. For now, restaurants should take what they can get and keep their carry-out/curbside pickup/delivery business going strong.

Even with outdoor dining, restaurants must be aware of spacing between tables. Guests must feel comfortable. Eventually they will, but the short-term is crucial to keep the restaurant open.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining is necessary at this time as restaurants, particularly independent operators, struggle to survive. Unfortunately, many of these operators will not survive with or without outdoor dining. The issue is the allowed dining capacity. Capacity limits of 30 percent to 50 percent will make it difficult to stay profitable. That being said, the concept of outdoor dining, even in colder climates with appropriate heaters, is very attractive to consumers. Cities and towns permitting restrictive use of public space for outdoor dining should be applauded. These restaurants need to survive before they thrive.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Two different questions: Will consumers find this appealing? Yes. Will restaurant owners turn a profit? Probably not.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

For warm desert climates yes it will do fine, whereas other areas not so much. The social distance part needs lifted ASAP, or many restaurants will not make a profit, and that is a scenario nobody needs in their cities.

David Slavick
Guest

Warm desert climates? In Arizona or Palm Springs with dry heat I think it is attractive, and even here in Chicago where it was 94 yesterday!

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

In Phoenix it will be 110 degrees today. Dining outside is not so pleasant right now or for the next two months.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining might provide a bridge to full recovery, but it’s not a long-term solution until restaurants can reopen at full capacity indoors. Many restaurants don’t have the physical space to permit outdoor dining, and many others operate in cold climates. Hopefully many restaurants who learned to build a delivery and pickup business for the first time will continue to supplement their dine-in business rather than looking for patio dining as a long-term answer.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Fortunately, we are entering the summer months so outdoor dining may well turn out to be the savior of restaurants trying to maximize coverage as they reopen. However, in most parts of the U.S., this is only a temporary fix for as long as the good weather lasts. Ultimately, if restaurants have to reduce the number of people they serve the economic model unravels (unless they can hike up prices, which is doubtable) and we will see a lot of pain and closures.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Climate is a key factor here. Too hot or too cold and people will wish to sit inside. It could well be a good stop-gap in a limited number of places over the next few months but as things get too hot over the summer it will be of reduced value. Equally over the winter depending on climate things could be worse. I know that some grocery retailers are already planning their winter strategy in terms of queuing outside stores. Eating establishments need to think about similar approaches of trying things out now.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining has its own set of complexities in our socially distanced world. Many restaurants do not have the luxury or flexibility to quickly ramp up outdoor capacities, as it requires a different operating model. However, for those restaurants that can provide this as an option, it does offer them a short term lifeline and another revenue stream beyond curbside pickup and delivery to help keep them afloat.

While we learn more as a society about the precautions and regulations around preventing the spread of COVID-19, restaurants will continue to face challenges until they are able to return to more of a fuller indoor capacity.

George Anderson
Staff

In Cranford, NJ, the town is partially closing a street (Thursday through Monday) to create a public plaza, of sorts, so that restaurants can further move outdoors.

The town, which is already very pedestrian-friendly, has a number of restaurants that currently offer outside dining. By closing the street, the town will be giving businesses more room to safely serve customers and keep staff safe.

Cranford is reopening with 466 confirmed cases of COVID-19 here to date and having lost 90 people to the virus including 77 in long-term care facilities.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

It’s a response, but it may not be economically viable for existing operators, or restaurants inside urban cores with restricted sidewalk space. And there is the problem of weather. Sorry — I live in Michigan where the weather is terrible 12 months a year. The answer to the second question is yes, especially for those who were making it work pre-COVID-19.

David Slavick
Guest

Cities need to be adaptable and change their health and safety policies. They also need to relax the process and improve the turnaround in order to enable restaurants to build out outdoor seating concepts. In many cities it takes way too long to go from the application to approval. Likewise, in many cities the operator has to pay separate fees to offer it. Outdoor dining, cafe and alternate experiences are highly satisfying. Make it the norm, and make it not so difficult to implement and support operationally.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining areas are a partial solution. Yes it will appeal to consumers, but will it enable most restaurants to serve enough diners to make a profit? Probably not. It’s a capacity game at the end of the day, Restaurants need the dining capacity to bring their sales up to a level that covers their costs. Much like stores carry a high cost for retailers when they can only provide curbside pickup and delivery, restaurants are equally challenged when their expensive space isn’t used to provide the services and products they offer – in this case, food service. In a separate discussion, we talked about dark stores, and there has been much talk about dark kitchens in our futures where those kitchens do not serve a dining area but only a delivery/pickup service. Unfortunately, current restaurants aren’t set up to work in that way. Outdoor dining will alleviate some of the pain restaurants are feeling, but I fear we will still lose many of them long-term.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Like so many solutions they are experimenting with, this is an arrow in the quiver. 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.

I just came to Florida from Atlanta and almost every restaurant is doing a combo of BOPIS, curbside and outdoor dining. In a nice climate with the space, it works really well. But it’s not a saving grace by any stretch.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining is not the silver lining. There are a limited number of consumers who can be served if social distancing is in place. Certainly it is better than none. However, the option for convenient pickup needs to be built into the plan because outdoor dining alone is not sufficient for success and many consumers prefer to still dine at home, especially if the numbers take a steep rise.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Outdoor seating has obvious limitations: weather and available physical space. Maybe some portion of the parking lots can be temporarily extended to provide more outdoor space.

It will certainly help in next four months. Hopefully by that time we have medication/a vaccine and things are back to normal.

Anecdotally speaking, I saw packed drive-thru lines and outdoor seating fully occupied. I think there is quite a bit of pent up demand.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining is a smart response to the pandemic problems. And let’s hope that some of the new outdoor spaces remain in place long after the pandemic.

But will it remain a prominent feature of restaurants? I doubt it. Few restaurants have good access to sufficient outdoor space to make it an important feature.

And let’s get clear on how few restaurants reside in locations with the weather and space to make it a long term profit bonus.

Skepticism aside … Restaurants SHOULD consider how an outdoor space draws attention to their location — it’s a type of advertising which can bring some vitality to their image. There are likely quite a few who can break even on their outdoor dining AND get a boost in revenue from their traditional business when outdoor remains.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Just another step in the fight for survival.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Outdoor dining is an option, but not the solution to sustained cash flow and liquidity. Survivors will depend less on executing a perfect outdoor dining strategy and more on fixing their balance sheet. The trick is to remain viable long enough so you can (re)grow revenues and profit once we achieve our vaccine moment.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Quite simply “no,” there are too many issues — cold, rain, wind, sanitation — for this to be even be considered as some kind of substitute. Yeah, sure it will be a supplement of varying degrees in various places, at least during the summer months (exactly when it’s probably least needed from a prevention viewpoint).

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Outdoor dining will get (some) guests and staff to return, but will not generate a sufficient long-term revenue stream for operators, even with delivery/pick-up/take-out business. Even here in SoCal where we have pleasant weather year round, longer term solutions are needed to ensure powers and operators have the right recipe for a sustainable top and bottom line.

Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust

We’re already seeing a surge in takeout trends at fine-dining restaurants. I see a new dining culture emerging where restaurants will move outside of the city and provide takeout-only options. Think of shared spaces like Cloud Kitchen, the new solution by Uber’s former CEO. COVID-19 will catalyse this shift from location and receiving customers to delivery of restaurant food outside of dense locations. If we can find a solution for packaging meals at perfect temperatures, I believe that this is the trend that will save restaurants.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Outdoor dining might provide a bridge to full recovery, but it's not a long-term solution until restaurants can reopen at full capacity indoors."
"Just another step in the fight for survival."
"Climate is a key factor here. Too hot or too cold and people will wish to sit inside."

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