A Guide to Expand Your Restaurant’s Dining Outside

After facing a devastating impact from the global pandemic, the restaurant industry is ready to open its doors. With a totaled loss of approximately $80 billion in sales and two out of three employees out of work, it’s difficult to imagine how the industry will begin to recover. Yet as the CDC releases updated health and safety guidelines, restaurants are seeking new and creative ways to safely accommodate customers.

The most effective plan restaurants are initiating is an expansion to outside dining. Outdoor dining areas are becoming a lifeline for restaurants, giving them the ability to serve more customers under safer conditions.

We’ve created a guide that will help you add outdoor dining at your restaurant safely and effectively. Once your outdoor dining area is ready for reopening, you and your guests can enjoy it all season long!

Research and Obtain Necessary Permits

Your first step in adding a dining area outside is to obtain the correct authorization from your restaurant’s city. Elements of this process can be specific to each location, but generally the application will include these topics via greaterplaces.com:

  1. Purpose and Definitions
  2. Requirements & Fees
  3. Indemnification  
  4. Allowed Activities and Hours of Operation
  5. Alcoholic Beverage Requirements 
  6. Maintenance and Liability 
  7. Enforcement Procedures 

Multiple cities across the country are recognizing how vital outdoor dining is for the industry’s return, and they have adjusted the application process accordingly. Cities in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, and Texas, among others, have lifted permit fees and are offering a temporary 90-day permit for restaurants to expand outdoors. Sidewalk and parking lot dining will be the new outdoor restaurant alternative that compensates for limited indoor capacity. 

Create a Great Design 

One key to successfully adding alfresco dining to your restaurant is a good design. Whether it’s a quick expansion in time for reopening or a permanent restaurant patio, you’ll need a layout that functions for your staff and customers. 

Your most important consideration in this expansion is safety, so your table arrangements will need to be placed at least six feet apart. This will keep your customers distanced as they dine, and also provide clear pathways for your staff members. 

Another consideration for your design is controlling the noise from your location’s surroundings. Sidewalk cafes and dining spots are great for bringing in foot traffic and attracting passerbys, yet the excess noise can be distracting to diners. Adding awnings, umbrellas, or foliage can help muffle noise and create a more private feel for your space!

Choose Quality Furniture

Whether your restaurant is expanding onto a patio, sidewalk, or parking lot, you’ll want to furnish it with functional tables and chairs. The outdoor furniture you choose should be comfortable enough for guests to enjoy, but durable enough to withstand the outdoor conditions for hours at a time! 

There are so many factors that go into selecting the right outdoor furniture. Consider styles that reflect your brand, pieces that are stackable for easy storage, resistant to UV rays and rust, and most importantly, furniture that you can efficiently disinfect after each dining party. For your guests’ safety, each surface will need to be thoroughly wiped down, so selecting tables and chairs that are easily cleaned will be extremely beneficial. If you need help deciding between steel or aluminum furniture, check out this blog as a helpful resource.   

If you’re searching for the right furniture for your new expanded dining space, check out our wide selection of outdoor commercial furniture! We offer a variety of comfortable, high-quality, and low-maintenance tables and seating that will match any restaurant design and made durable for everyday use. 

Add Proper Lighting

Since indoor dining is operating with limited capacity, you’ll want to maximize the amount of time that your outdoor space is usable. By adding outdoor lighting, you’ll enhance the ambiance on your restaurant’s new patio and extend its availability into the night. That means when the sun goes down, your customers will still be able to comfortably enjoy their meals! 

Adding this element to your outdoor dining is often an afterthought, but a great lighting design will draw customers in and keep them there. Lighting from above, like string lights throughout a canopy or pergola, will provide plenty of light for your customers to see their food and their surroundings. If your outdoor expansion exists in the parking lot, light arrangements on each table and solar lights around the space will create a romantic glow. Be creative with this element and make sure your staff is able to perform their duties with the lighting design you choose!

Control Temperature 

The perfect temperature to dine outside doesn’t come around every day! And if your restaurant is located in a region that gets extremely hot in the day and cold at night, that can present a new challenge. To keep your customers comfortable, you’ll want to install elements that can help regulate the temperature in your outdoor dining area when necessary. 

To maintain comfortable temperatures during the day, it’s not really financially feasible to run air conditioning outside. By adding large, overhead fans, you can make a significant difference to your patio’s temperature at a fraction of the cost. Consider sound, operation, size, and damp rating as all factors in purchasing overhead fans. If your new outdoor patio needs a quick fix for reopening without overhead fan installation, there are plenty of large, commercial-grade fans to get your outdoor dining space started. Or, add umbrellas to tables in the open sunlight! They’ll give your guests shade as they dine while enhancing the alfresco feel. 

There are plenty of options when it comes to patio heaters for your restaurant. Deciding on the right one for your space will take some research, because there are so many considerations for each option! Portable propane units are easy to install and can be moved to fit your needs, whereas wall or ceiling mounted heaters need to be installed by a professional and don’t disrupt the flow of your furniture. Electric heaters don’t require ventilation, so they are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. They are also the most environmentally conscious option, producing zero carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. Regardless of the heater you choose, these are great investments that will keep customers comfortable and coming back to dine. 

Store Your Furniture

One factor that cannot be overlooked when expanding your restaurant’s dining outside is the ability to store your new furniture and accessories. For security purposes, and to keep your pieces looking their best, you’ll want to stack the furniture and cover it (after thoroughly cleaning it) when the restaurant closes. 

Clearing out space indoors is ideal for storing your restaurant’s patio furniture, but that space isn’t always available. Plus, it’s extremely time consuming to carry in and out each day! If possible, stack the furniture and place it underneath an awning or cover. Buying tarp and securing it over the furniture is a quick fix to protect it from the overnight elements. Table accessories, such as candles, condiments, lighting, or other decorations should be stored indoors each night to prevent theft or ruin.

Long term storage should also be a consideration when expanding dining outdoors. If your restaurant’s patio is going to be open seasonally, rent a storage unit that can house your furniture during the winter months. Always maintain your furniture before and after off-season storage to keep it safe and clean!

Conclusion 

As restaurants are beginning to reopen, cities across the country are recognizing the role that outdoor dining will play in rebuilding the industry. Permits and regulations are temporarily adjusted for restaurant owners to expand their dining spaces outside, encouraging restaurants to serve customers outdoors. 

Expanding your restaurant’s dining outside is a safe option to compensate for limited capacity indoors. Whether you’re expanding to sidewalks, parking lots, or an outdoor patio, we hope this guide provides you with useful information to make this new space work for you. 

Click here for a list of states reopening restaurant dining with details on capacity limits.

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