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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 MarketWatch.com

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