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Will outdoor dining become a norm? (By Jacob Fry)

COVID-19 has created an unprecedented scenario for many American industries, and the restaurant industry is no different. With restaurants being forced to close their in-person dining across the country, many restaurants saw a downturn in business. Now, six months after the pandemic first hit America, restaurants across multiple states are only allowed to serve customers outside. This has raised the question, will outdoor dining become the norm in places where it can be utilized?

COVID-19 Impact on the Restaurant Industry

When the COVID-19 pandemic first started back in March 2020, many restaurants were forced to close their in-person dining. OpenTable reported a 42% drop in reservations by mid-March and grocery delivery apps saw a 215% increase by mid-March, showing the drastic shift from eating out to cooking at home. Restaurants then saw a 54% decline in revenue, creating a huge hit to many small, independent restaurants. By mid-May, most states had released guidelines for partial opening of restaurants, with most restaurants opting for outdoor dining. For the most part, these guidelines have held steady to date, with no set date for when restaurants can reopen at full capacity. 

Outdoor Dining Grows

When outdoor dining first started, we saw many restaurants adapt quickly, as it meant bringing employees back to work and hopefully an increase in sales. Many cities started closing down streets and downtown areas to allow restaurants and businesses to expand onto the street for outdoor dining in addition to waiving fees and permits required for outdoor dining. This proved to be effective, as a study showed customers are more than twice as likely to visit a restaurant with outdoor seating as opposed to only indoor seating. 

The European Model

Outdoor seating among streets is something commonly seen throughout Europe, showing how this could become commonplace here in America. Some of Spain’s most famous streets are closed to traffic permanently as restaurants have lined the entire road with seating for their customers, something commonly seen even pre-COVID. 

The Future of Outdoor Dining

With so many restaurants converting to outdoor dining, and customers becoming accustomed to the beautiful outdoors, they will want to continue to have the option to serve outside. Some restaurateurs feel this one way the restaurant industry could be changed forever. Outdoor dining provides a safe medium for guests to enjoy restaurants while still feeling comfortable eating out. 

What do you think? Would you be more willing to eat outside at a restaurant than inside? Will outdoor restaurants see more long-term success than indoor only?

About the Author 

Jacob is a fourth-year Hospitality Management major at the Collins College at Cal Poly Pomona. He is involved with the Kellogg Honors College and ETA Sigma Delta, the international hospitality honor society. He currently works at Flying Rice as a chef and is the executive director of Plants 4 the People. He one day hopes to open his own restaurant.

Note: The picture was downloaded from


  1. Qinqin Chen HRT3500.02
    City staff should transform to provide expanded outdoor seating and dining that can accommodate social distancing, while increasing restaurant capacity, allowing customers to dine.

  2. I believe COVID will become a part of our life until there is a detailed vaccination insight. The restaurant needs to adapt and find ways to create “outdoor” seating and experience to ensure guest safety and guest perception of safety. Indoor seating and occupancy sized need to be changed to accommodate social distancing, and the restaurant needs extra safety procedures and precautions to ensure guests and employee safety. I would prefer outdoor dining over indoor dining, but I am not shying away from the idea of indoor dining with safety measures in place. I believe outdoor seating will do great long-term in an area with weather compatible with it; extreme cold temperature, constant rain or snow, or frequent natural disaster will make outdoor seating unreliable.
    Robert Chiou HRT 3500 Section 1

  3. I believe that people would eat outside dinning more often then dinning inside, but I am sure that people will also rather eat inside because depending on the certain time of day or how the weather is outside it would be more comforting inside. People would eat outside because most people are not used to eating only at home, even I who only eat out twice a month miss eating at restaurants. But sadly I think no matter what people would rather dine inside the store because of the weather and time of day, I have many allergies to plants and smoke can't really enjoy eating outside no matter the type of weather am in. For now outside dinning will probably see more of a long term success that is until the virus dies down, but people must also see the type of weather we have. No one would eat outside when it is raining, or cold and there are people who can't handle the heat because of their age or having a weak immune system, there can also be problems with customers kids, people who would like it to be more quite and smokers. It all depends on the restaurant target market for outside dinning as for me, I will not dine outside and would probably just get Chinese food.
    HRT 3500.02 Isaac Magana

  4. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many counties only allow restaurants to provide outdoor dining and limit tables to keep the social distancing. Outdoor dining helps restaurants to slowly recover from the pandemic, and also provides a place for people to dining out and enjoy foods. I went out to get food this afternoon, and I realize there are still many people who are willing to "take the risk" to dine in the outdoor area of the restaurant during the anti-epidemic period, enjoying the bright sunshine of Southern California and spending a pleasant afternoon with friends. I am a person who likes to seat an outdoor table and dining with friends and family because outdoor dining provides a different experience and the feeling of being in the city.

    Haozheng Tu 3500-02

  5. Outdoor dining has become the lifeline for the food and beverage industry during the pandemic. I think people including me would like to eat outside at a restaurant rather than inside because walking around and seeing everyone outside eating feels like a very European vibe. Although there are many changes and restrictions while dining, people may get used to it and adapt it quickly. In my opinion, I believe outdoor dining is short-term success because it has been crucial in keeping some restaurants afloat only in summer. When it is hot, people like to go out more. And as winter is coming, the weather changes, people may not want to eat out frequently. Moreover, dining outside can be a big expense for restaurant owners.
    Tam Nguyen HRT 3500-01

  6. Ashley Boomsma HRT 3500-02November 11, 2020 at 6:03 PM

    Perhaps this new normal of having only outdoor dining, is an incredible opportunity for restaurants to showcase their creativity and personality in how they are able to accommodate outdoor dining. Many restaurants have had to make additional purchases to spruce up their patios that have previously been neglected. I've seen some put up beautiful stringed lights and large tents to accommodate extended outdoor dining areas. Some use wooden fences to extend the area, I saw one restaurant put up chandeliers in a large white tent in front of their restaurant to add 5 more tables. I think that with these new actions that are allowed given the circumstances, most restaurant can maintain their full staff and find ways showcase what the restaurants are capable of doing!

    Ashley Boomsma 3500-02

  7. I have been skeptical about eating out ever since the pandemic started. I barely went to eat at a restaurant outdoors because it was my friends birthday and I do think that I felt better being sat outdoors than inside. The only thing I will say is that because the weather is changing and it gets darker faster, this means that it is colder sooner which I feel that there will be a decrease in the amount of people that show up to eat. Many restaurants do provide heaters outdoors, which will be comforting for some people, but all in all I think people will still prefer to eat in the comfort and warmth of their home. I do not think that outdoor restaurants will see more long-term success than indoor only because once it starts to rain then people will not be as willing to eat at the restaurant. It was a good plan to start sitting people outdoors when all this started but now I think that people will hesitate mainly because with the cold more people are likely to get sick and some are not willing to take that risk just to eat outdoors.

    Viviana Madrigal HRT 3500-01

  8. I feel like restaurants should not be open at all during this pandemic to be completely honest with you. Corona virus is at an all time high and I feel like things such as outside dining has contributed to part of that. Outside dining makes people think that the situation is getting better but its actually doing the opposite. I feel like we should close everything down until we get everything out of control. We shut down everything in the beginning of pandemic and what do you know corona virus cases went down. After opening up restaurants and stores again, we had another surge of COVID. As much as I want to see the restaurant and hospitality business to do good, its selfish for people to have their restaurants open to dining in during a serious time like this.

    Calvin Heng
    HRT 3500 Section 2

    1. I work in a restaurant myself and I have gotten pretty used to doing only take out as well as outdoor seating. We do have a few restrictions like a maximum of six people per table and requiring parties larger than 6 to have to split up if they do exceed the maximum number of people per table. I remember back in March when everything related to Corona started to affect everyone's daily lives and our restaurant closed for indoor, we didn't have outdoor but we only had takeout. Then LA County was given the green light to open indoor dining but of course restaurants had to enforce social distancing, as well as other procedures that were required by the CDC. This then resulted in the covid-19 cases spiking up and restaurants were forced to close indoors again. Then after this restaurants were allowed to open outdoor seating while still having takeout. These past a handful of months have depicted that when a restaurant opens whether it be for indoor dining or outdoor seating the numbers have spiked up. This then leads me to believe that although outdoor seating is how restaurants are coming close to earning what they used to earn, I don't necessarily agree with them being open for seating. This is only because whenever any sort of seating is open to the public during this pandemic the numbers start to rise which results in restaurants having to close down rather than just handling the situation properly so that these restaurants can remain open.
      Samantha Hernandez
      HRT 3500-01

    2. I also work in a restaurant much like Samantha and we do take-out but we do indoor dine-in because the restaurant is located in a mall therefore its difficult to find space for outdoor dining. We do have like two or three tables outside but doing solely outdoor dining would be difficult to make a profit especially since my restaurant is special one where the food gets delivered by a train on a rail. I can see why people want restaurants to remain closed but as the holiday seasons are coming, people are more likely to do takeout especially workers who don't have the time to cook for their family even on a normal day. And similar to Samantha's saying, the weather is changing and is getting colder and people wouldn't want to dine outside in the cold winter. My restaurant do try to place enough space between each party as much as possible by having every other table open. Samantha brought up a good topic of whether restaurants being open for seating. I for one don't know which side to be one because for everyone's health, it should remain closed but that would put tons of people out of work and unable to pay for bills and those bills will not pay for themselves. Plus, unemployment money will only last for so long. One of my co-workers has two jobs and the restaurant we work for is the one providing for her health insurance so she needs to work to maintain that insurance. And i personally work because i need the money. I feel as long as the restaurants follow the guidelines that the government gives them, they should be okay. But one time a family of 10 came in before we closed and i seated them in the same area but with a table between them because of covid but they responded by saying that they are family so they shouldn't be separated. I told them i had to do this but just yesterday my manager put a party of 8 at two tables next to each and i cringed because its very unsafe in my opinion. I think that the California government should make and enforce a better guideline so that the amount of cases are reduced.

      Tiffany Tran
      HRT 3500-01

  9. I believe that everything right now is required by the CDC due to Covid, therefore everyone is abiding by the rules of dining out or take out. However I feel like when summer rolls back around when number decrease more , then people are going to want to dine back inside. Personally I do not like eating outside and there are many people who are not able to be out due to allergies or even now with the weather being so unpredictable. This is something that I don't see staying around.
    Melinda Lopez
    HRT 3500 Section 01

  10. Di huang
    Outdoor dining is only temporary. It's really inconvenient. After the outbreak of cove-19, all industries suffered losses. The restaurant wanted to save as much as possible, so they opened outdoor dining. But outdoor dining requires a social distance of six feet between guests. Secondly, waiters should also wear masks and let customers wear them. However, people can't always wear masks when they eat. And eating in restaurants also increases the contact between people. Generally speaking, it is a few friends who have dinner together. The novel coronavirus pneumonia is increasing. Restaurants are now taking additional measures to meet the social distance guidelines, including the use of masks as required by local, state, or federal officials, as well as enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures and emphasis on personal hygiene. I think during the outbreak, the best way is to order takeout. The decision to eat in a restaurant is a balanced act, and they advise diners to weigh the risks and consider the current situation according to their location. In addition, if people don't like to eat outdoors but want local food, takeout is a good choice.
    HRT3500-02 Di Huang

  11. Ellyse Kapicki HRT 3500.01November 16, 2020 at 9:57 AM

    Personally, I enjoy eating outside. There is less noise, so it is easier to talk and many things to look at while enjoying my meal. I definitely think restaurants with an outdoor seating option will see more long-term success than indoor only restaurants. I also believe that more restaurants will invest in creating or building outdoor seating. One downside is weather, being in Sothern California we are blessed to have great weather year-round. Outdoor dining may be challenging for places where it snows for a large portion of the year. I am blessed to be working at my current job at L’Auberge Del Mar because the hotel has a huge outdoor dining space. I think many restaurants are doing an amazing job with adapting to the new outdoor dining requirements. Restaurants that did not have outdoor seating or patios found a way to create outdoor seating by blocking off parts of parking lots and setting up tables. Sadly, many restaurants did not have this option and I do empathize for the restaurants that could not find the option for outdoor seating and had to close. It is also very impressive how quickly establishments were able to adapt to the COVID-19 sanitation and safety protocols. For example, customers or guests can scan barcodes at their tables to view and even sometimes order off their phones to reduce the amount of contact. The down side is that the servers are sometimes not able to create the interactions and conversations they normally would with the guest which might hurt their tips.
    WORDS: 258

    Ellyse Kapicki HRT 3500 Section 01

  12. Priyank Patel HRT 3500 Section #1November 16, 2020 at 12:35 PM

    I think that the outdoor restaurant trend will continue to be popular even after restrictions for indoor dining are lifted and people start eating inside again. There many people I personally know, who do not mind eating outside, but would still rather be inside. However, there are also people who would usually never eat outside before the pandemic, who now say that they prefer eating outside and will continue to do so in the future. Unfortunately, as Ellyse said, not everyone is lucky enough to have the weather we do, so the outdoor seating will be limited in those areas and not used as much. I think the restaurants that aren't clinging on to how things used to be will be the ones to succeed as they adapt to changes.

  13. Anita Chang HRT 3500 Section #2

    As the pandemic continues, restaurants are finding ways to stay afloat. The most common thing they have done is provide more outside seating. Outside seating has been around for a while, but now it is slowly becoming the norm. Despite all the efforts, I personally still think that it would be better to eat at home because it is much safer. Some outside seating area I have seen are not really six feet apart. As the covid numbers are slowly on the rise again, I think it is unwise for people to continue to eat outside. However, from a business point of view, it is currently their only option if they still want to stay afloat.

    1. It is no surprise that when the pandemic hit, every business was impacted but mainly restaurants especially those that only have in-door dining. Although takeout became the “new” norm, revenue was still decreasing. Although when restrictions were lifted and guidelines were set, outdoor dining became the “new” norm and majority of restaurants have been able to adapt, even the smaller ones. Outdoor dining has always been an option, even if there was not a lot of seating, it was always available, but people prefer to sit inside due to the weather. I believe that when it is safe to eat inside, indoor dining will be more successful than outdoor dining but for now it will do.

      Word count: 116
      HRT 3500 Section 1 Amberly Recendez

  14. Rebecca Becerra HRT 3500.01November 16, 2020 at 2:05 PM

    With Covid-19 still rising in numbers resturants are forced to only have outdoor dining available for their guests but the question that everyone seems to be asking is "Will this become our new norm?" Outdoor dining is now everywhere even if it means the resturant has to place tables in their parking lot. Once we opened outdoor dining people came almost immediantly. It was great to meantion the fact that this is a normal thing to see in Europe. For me personally, it took me a while to go sit at another resturant but once I did it was not as bad as I expected. I truely believe resturant will keep up with the outdoor dining even after covid is finished especially if they are located somewhere beautiful with great scenery to enjoy while you are enjoying your meal.

  15. I have always enjoyed outdoor dining, but I never would have imagined that we would end up dining in the parking lots of restaurants. I do see restaurants eventually going back to normal, but I think that the restaurant business might eventually go in the direction of outdoor dining. Something that might change in the future is the possibility of building new restaurants that have more outdoor capacity and less indoor. It is also possible that they start spacing tables out more in future restaurants.

    Gerardo Felix HRT 3500.01


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