September 21st, 2020

Winter Dining with COVID – How Restaurants are Planning & Adapting

Posted in Consumer Trends, Restaurants

Restaurants are Getting Creative with Winter Dining Solutions

Winter Dining Solutions

As challenges continue to mount, restaurants now must look at planning for survival during a COVID winter.

Outdoor dining and take-out options have certainly helped slow the bleed for restaurants nationally, but traffic is still low. While some areas have introduced 50% indoor dining capacity rules, there are still areas (New York City, for example) where indoor dining is not permitted. Therefore, outdoor dining and take-out services remain the main, reliable sources of regular sales.

But, with a looming winter that could bring ice storms and snowfalls to outpace previous years on record (see Farmers’ Almanac Extended Forecast), restaurants are looking for creative solutions to keep guests comfortable, even when outside.

How Restaurants are Adapting to a COVID Winter

Infrastructure

Outdoor Dining COVID

The most obvious, and most expensive, changes happening are around infrastructure. Many restaurants are investing in outdoor awnings, standalone coverings, and/or private pods like igloos for outdoor seating.

Along with this comes the addition of outdoor heaters, both gas and electric, that will be arranged for the overall area and at individual tables. Additionally, many restaurants are adding shops or markets to their now semi-vacant indoor space to promote the purchase of house-made items. This includes not only pre-packaged foods but even raw ingredients in some cases.

Some restaurants have gone as far as investing in indoor air ionization systems to ensure the air inside is safe and virus free. While this might seem like an attractive solution for many, the price tag can be quite prohibitive ($10k+).

Luckily, the National Restaurant Association is currently lobbying congress for tax credits for businesses adding infrastructure enhancements to battle COVID transmission. This, however, may not see any results before winter begins, so best to not put all your eggs in that basket.

Seating Solutions

Winter Dining Solutions

Along with the infrastructure enhancements, many businesses are looking at the physical seating space for opportunities to add warmth. One popular idea has been to replace outdoor metal chairs and tables with items made from warmer materials, like wood and cloth.

To compliment these additions, there have been investments in restaurant branded blankets and shawls that can be used during service, then either purchased by the customer or laundered before next use.

Finally, to combat wind in outdoor areas, the addition of plants is an option. Adding greenery and shrubbery to an outdoor dining space can not only make it more inviting and create privacy between diners, it can also block some level of wind and precipitation.

Menu Solutions

Winter Food Solutions COVID

Another way to make customers feel warmer when dining in cold weather is to simply provide warmer food. Many restaurants are making dramatic menu changes to include foods that provide warmth, like stews, soups, curries, and chilies.

The other benefit of outfitting a menu with these items is that they are quick to execute. This means the customers time in contact with the cold is reduced.  This is an intentional move to ensure the diner doesn’t have to wait in the cold for too long before their cozy meal is delivered.

Finally, some more ambitious restaurants are carving out other paths to bring in sales including grocery delivery and event-based to go kits, like anniversary picnic baskets and date-night meal kits.

Let’s Bundle Up & Eat!

As restaurants continue to adapt to COVID, there’s no doubt innovative dining solutions will continue to increase. One thing is for sure, it’s going to take a series of small solutions, rather than a single big one, to keep restaurants cooking this winter.

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June 15th, 2020

Could Outdoor Dining Help Bring Back Restaurants?

Posted in Restaurants, Tips

Patios, Sidewalks, and Streets Become Dining Rooms as Restaurants Restart

Outdoor Dining

As restaurants nationwide begin to open their doors again (with limited capacity), creative owners are asking if outdoor dining might be a solution, or part of a solution, for how to restart on premise dining.

Many factors come into play here, but initial prospects are positive. Let’s see what we need to make outdoor dining a boost for restaurants and how it can be done safely.

Outdoor Dining in Response to Coronavirus

Government

How To Outdoor Dining

The first step in getting diners outside is getting enough space to allow diners to eat while maintaining distance. Restaurants and government bodies have been working diligently in cities around the U.S. to loosen restrictions on outdoor dining.

The focus is on freeing up sidewalk spaces, common spaces, green-ways, and even streets in some circumstances, to become outdoor dining rooms. In San Francisco, Mayor Breed has released the “Shared Spaces” act which goes into effect on June 15th, allowing restaurants to set up tables in parks, on sidewalks, and in plazas.

Chicago is taking this one step further by looking at specific neighborhoods that could be shut down to traffic and turned into large outdoor dining centers. Denver is extending the common walkways in places like 16th Street Mall to allow for more tables than just the designated patios. Ideas like this, when combined, could be enough to get some restaurants back to capacity.

Creative Spaces

Drive-In Restaurants

Other restaurants and cities are finding even more creative ways to create safe dining spaces. BJs Restaurant and Bar in Mingus, TX turned their parking lot into an outdoor movie theater and is providing their full menu for diners to enjoy in the comfort of their own vehicles. They’re able to serve up to 40 vehicles a time during screenings.

Weather

Outdoor dining areas

Weather is the always unpredictable factor in outdoor dining, and restaurants aren’t blind to this. Many have invested in over-sized umbrellas, tents, and other physical barriers to keep folks outside and comfortable.

In Amsterdam, Mediamatic Eten restaurant went as far as building personal outdoor greenhouses for their guests. While they might not be feasible for every restaurant, it certainly is a creative solution!

Safety

Restaurant Diner Safety

Finally, and most importantly, restaurants will still need to address how to keep people safe during their dining experience. Most venues still require masks to be worn when not actively eating or drinking. Outdoor sanitation stations have been implemented for customers to cleanse their hands without needing to crowd inside.

Restaurants will also still have to balance the need to have enough guests in seats to cover costs, while ensuring necessary social distancing. Luckily, outdoor spaces allow for more creativity in table designs.

And finally, the issue of restrooms. It will still be important that people do not congregate, so a rush for the lavatory could spell disaster. Therefore, servers may need to alert customers when the restrooms are free, require outdoor lines to enter, or other, more creative solutions, like text requests or pagers.

Ready to Dine Outside?

I know I am. So, use these ideas to create safe spaces for your diners. I know they’re just as excited to see you as you are to see them. And don’t forget to check out our Food Trends During Coronavirus blog for more on what diners are craving.

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