Winter Is Coming. Does Outdoor Dining Have a Future? 11 Great Tips for Restaurants

Winter Is Coming. Does Outdoor Dining Have a Future? 11 Great Tips for Restaurants

Fancy a Spritz al fresco? Outdoor dining in parklets, aka streateries, saved millions of restaurants and bars around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In San Francisco, over 1,700 parklets have been approved since the onset of the pandemic. New legislation now assures these fixtures will be part of the streetscape for years to come. That’s great news for many restaurants who rely on outdoor dining as the only lifeline to tug them through winter. 

But not everyone is thrilled and the debate about parklets’ impact on parking and city traffic rages on.

Here’s what you need to know about the future of outdoor dining and how to prepare your restaurant for what’s coming. 

California Formalizes Outdoor Dining Through 2024

As of 20 July, 2021, the Shared Spaces Program made outdoor dining in parklets permanent and waived registration fees. Great news for most restaurants which can’t keep the lights on at 50% capacity. If your restaurant spent thousands of dollars on creating and decorating “temporary” structures for outdoor dining, the window of return on that investment is now wide open. 

Where alcohol is concerned, a statewide bill amendment, enrolled on 7 September, allows restaurants and bars to renew their licenses for serving alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption in parklets. The ABC instructions outline who is eligible and how to submit the license request form and the $100 fee. Licenses will be granted for successive one-year periods, until 1 July, 2024. 

These regulatory updates mark the transition from outdoor dining as emergency relief for restaurants to a permanent part of the urban fabric. In the long term, city tax and rent will surely adjust to get their share of these newly found income-generating spaces. 

Safety First

A collaboration of San Francisco’s Bureau of Street Use, Transport and Fire departments, led by the Dept. of Public Works has invested effort in permitting and guidelines that ensure parklets are safe, solid, insured and accessible, and of course – do not obstruct the sidewalks, roads or drainage. 

As winter approaches, many restaurant operators will be considering closing off, rainproofing, and heating their parklets. All of these alterations should be reviewed with safety in mind. 

As for COVID safety, proof of vaccination is not yet mandatory for outdoor dining as it is for indoor dining. But this could change. 

Restaurants Are Making the Most of Outdoor Dining

For many restaurants, adding seating and standing space is boosting both food sales and high margin cocktails. As patrons are thirsty for social interaction just as much as they are for a drink – it’s a win-win situation. Consider adjusting your parklet layout or having an outdoors menu serving that purpose. 

Restaurants that were once tucked away behind unassuming facades, now enjoy enhanced visibility on the street. Some are hosting special events with visiting chefs cooking outdoors, food truck collaborations, wine tastings and live music.

All this activity is revitalizing neighborhood communities. In many cities, entire streets are closed off to vehicles, like in San Francisco’s Slow Streets Program. Google Maps has even made these areas visible with thick blue dashed lines. Restaurants have always been ‘creators of environments’. Post-COVID, many are offering ‘quiet mornings’, ‘brain food’ and strong wifi.

5 Ways Outdoor Dining Can Go Wrong in Winter

Streateries can go terribly wrong. Here are 5 things to be mindful of.

  1. Accessibility. Many of the first parklets were not accessible, leaving out people at risk or with special access requirements. 
  2. Pedestrian safety. Jaywalking pedestrians and cyclists are at risk as they attempt to dodge the stream of servers hoisting hot plates and drinks on the one hand, and whizzing vehicles on the other. 
  3. Parking. In cities like San Francisco, finding a spot where there is high parklet density has become practically impossible. The new outdoor dining solution also reduces parking space for patrons, making it harder to dine out. 
  4. Traffic. Outdoor dining has forced California to a standstill. Many locals are also concerned about air quality. Fires were the main breathing hazard in summer. Going into winter, the implications of more cars going slower is hard to foresee. Use Purple Air to monitor air quality around your restaurant. 
  5. Noise and smell. Be mindful of the impact that outdoor dining has on neighbors and the neighborhood as a whole, not just patrons. 

6 Ways to Prepare Your Parklet for Winter

Get your parklet ready for dropping temperatures and drizzles. These tips will keep your guests safe and comfy. 

  1. COVID protocol – Don’t forget – it’s not over yet. Wherever you stand on proof of vaccination, remind guests to wear masks when moving around or talking to their server. 
  2. Ventilation – Guests and the government expect parklets to be very well ventilated. Be mindful of this when popping a roof on your parklet. 
  3. Heat it up – Providing blankets and heating to make guests comfy on a cold, rainy day. Take a moment to factor energy costs into your pricing. 
  4. Think long term – Design your parklet to last. Think durability as well as flexibility. Summer and winter dining have different needs. And New York restaurateurs will tell you that being able to take down their parklet during the hurricane scare this year was useful, to say the least. 
  5. Be visible – We’re all for decorating parklets and we’ve seen some beautiful designs. Securing high visibility stickers to the street side of your construction will make sure bikers and drivers steer clear through rain and fog. 
  6. No drain, no gain – Check the drainage situation on your street. While you don’t want a mushy flow of cold water over your diner’s feet, blocking the runoff route to drainage will be a disaster for everyone. 
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