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Cities Are Making COVID Outdoor Dining Permanent

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cities worldwide implemented outdoor dining initiatives to support struggling restaurants and ensure the safety of diners. What initially began as a temporary solution to accommodate social distancing guidelines has become a popular trend that some cities are embracing for the longer term. 

Outdoor dining emerged as a lifeline for the restaurant industry during the early days of COVID-19. Cities quickly implemented measures to allow restaurants to expand onto sidewalks, streets, and parking lots, providing an opportunity for businesses to continue operating while maintaining social distancing. These initiatives proved successful in boosting revenue and preserving jobs within the hospitality sector, and they also became quite popular with many residents and diners. 

In Chicago, the city council recently passed an ordinance to make outdoor dining a permanent feature of the city’s culinary landscape. The ordinance allows restaurants to renew their permits for outdoor dining spaces. By streamlining the permit renewal process, Chicago aims to provide restaurateurs stability and encourage ongoing investment in outdoor dining infrastructure. New York also has a proposed bill to make their outdoor dining program seasonally permanent that is expected to be passed by the city council.  

Outdoor Dining Brings Many Advantages

  • Safety and Social Distancing: While many diners no longer worry about social distancing, some still prioritize it. Having an outdoor dining option allows you to attract diners with varying risk tolerance levels.
  • Enhanced Dining Experience: Outdoor dining creates a lively, vibrant atmosphere distinct from traditional indoor dining. The sights, sounds, and energy of the surrounding city add to the charm and appeal of the dining experience. 
  • Expanded Seating Capacity: Making outdoor dining permanent allows restaurants to increase their seating capacity, accommodating more customers and potentially boosting revenue. 
  • Community Engagement and Revitalization: Outdoor dining initiatives often revitalize urban spaces by transforming streets and sidewalks into vibrant dining destinations. This revitalization benefits the restaurant industry and contributes to the community’s overall liveliness and economic development.
  • Attracting Tourism: Outdoor dining areas have the potential to attract tourists and visitors. The availability of outdoor dining options can make a city more appealing as a dining destination, showcasing its unique culinary scene and cultural offerings. This is a win-win for neighborhoods and restauranteurs. 
  • Ability to Invest: A more permanent outdoor dining program allows restaurants to invest in outdoor infrastructure such as heating systems, retractable awnings, or temporary enclosures.

While outdoor dining initiatives have garnered widespread support, they are not without opposition.

Concerns Raised by Opponents

  • Noise and Disruption: Expanded outdoor dining areas can increase noise levels, particularly during peak hours, potentially disturbing nearby residents. Striking a balance between a vibrant dining atmosphere and respecting the community is crucial. Implementing noise reduction measures, setting time restrictions, and engaging in open dialogue with residents can help address these concerns.
  • Accessibility: Outdoor dining areas should be accessible to all, including individuals with disabilities. Ensuring compliance with accessibility requirements, such as providing wheelchair ramps or accessible seating options, is essential. 
  • Parking and Traffic: Expanding dining areas onto streets or parking spaces may reduce available parking spaces for residents or visitors. Cities must carefully consider the impact on parking availability and implement effective traffic management strategies to minimize disruptions. 
  • Aesthetics: Another consideration is the visual impact of outdoor dining spaces on the urban landscape. Cities should establish guidelines to maintain aesthetic harmony and ensure that outdoor dining areas blend well with the surrounding environment. 

The shift towards permanent outdoor dining represents a significant change in the dining culture of cities. Outdoor spaces offer a rich and unique dining experience, fostering a sense of community and vitality. By transforming streets and sidewalks into culinary destinations, cities can enhance their appeal to locals and tourists and help their restaurant industry.

With increased outdoor dining comes a need for more staff. If you’re having trouble staffing your restaurant for the summer, EMERGING’s Target Workforce technology can help. 

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