How some cities plan to increase outdoor dining as restaurants reopen

From Berkeley to Boston, diners will utilize space and seating outside.

May 30, 2020, 12:45 PM

Restaurant owners agree that the concept of limited dining capacity is simply not sustainable. Their businesses rely on volume of customers and frequent turnover.

So cities have stepped in.

As diners eagerly await being seated at eateries in person once again -- even if it means sitting six feet apart -- cities have stepped up plans to support the hard-hit industry and are clearing a path for potential success.

In Europe, cities and countries such as Amsterdam and Germany have been proponents of opening up the streets and plazas to provide space for restaurants to expand seating and provide al-fresco dining experiences.

Across the U.S., many states have started to ease restrictions to allow restaurants to reopen and local municipalities have engineered new measures for expansive outdoor seating.

PHOTO: A server speaks with patrons at Douro restaurant on May 20, 2020 in Greenwich, Connecticut.
A server speaks with patrons at Douro restaurant on May 20, 2020 in Greenwich, Connecticut.
John Moore/Getty Images

The thought is that shutting down streets and opening up other public areas to restaurants will help ensure that diners can enjoy a meal while remaining at a safe social distance in accordance with state, local and health officials' mandates, and that restaurants will be able to fill and turn more tables.

For a full look at your state's reopening plan, click here.

Here is what's being done to expand service to the streets in some U.S. cities.

San Diego

"America's Finest City," as many call it, has given the green light for restaurants to reopen, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced earlier this month that the city has worked diligently to approve modified on-site dining.

Matt Awbrey, the mayor's chief of civic and external affairs, shared news on Twitter, outlining the proposal for "temporary outdoor business operations" changes to the city's municipal code. The changes will allow for expansion of outdoor dining "within the public right of way, private parking lots and public space and parks," the memo read.

Sdewalk cafe permits, temporary street closures and constructed seating in pedestrian plazas are all part of the proposed measure, which would waive current permit requirements. The program will ensure that restaurants continue to follow social distancing guidelines.

“Let’s support local workers and restaurants not only by giving them our business but by following public health rules that keep all of us safe,” Mayor Faulconer said in a press release. “We’ve all worked so hard, so let’s enjoy our progress but not give up the gains we’ve made. Whether you’re on the sand or at a shop this weekend, stay classy out there San Diego.”

The temporary ordinance would go into effect during the current state of emergency, which was declared by the city on March 12.

San Francisco

The City by the Bay remains under strict plans for re-opening and although restaurants will not open for dining with modified outdoor service until June 15, the mayor and a local restaurant lobbying group have made strides to help get residents back to their favorite eateries.

Mayor London Breed introduced a Shared Spaces Program in an attempt to help restaurants rebound after they closed their doors in the densely populated 46.8 square-mile city.

She called the order "a creative solution that will give our businesses more space to operate safely, and shift some of our street and sidewalk space to protect the economic and physical health of our entire community."

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) has interceded with a petition to allow restaurants to apply for permits that would temporarily utilize "a portion of the public right-of-way" -- open spaces around businesses including sidewalks, parking spots and "full or partial streets."

Charleston, SC

At a high-traffic beach town 11 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina -- where COVID-19 restrictions have eased -- restaurants have room to breathe and started to seat crowds of customers at socially distanced outdoor tables.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order earlier this month that would allow South Carolina restaurants to offer outdoor seating.

Just in time for Memorial Day, Loggerhead's Beach Grill, a popular oceanfront bar and restaurant, reopened its patio seating and expanded even more dining setups in the parking lot.

"We have the biggest location as far as folks to sit outside, we've turned our outside parking lot area into outdoor seating as well to maximize our capacity," Mike Van Horn, the restaurant's manager told ABC News Charleston affiliate WCIV. "It's a good relief because obviously the restaurant industry was one of the biggest ones hit, especially with the number of people that were laid off industry wide."

He added now that restrictions have been lifted, "folks definitely came out here in droves -- and it hasn't slowed down."

New York City, NY

As the Big Apple prepares to reopen more businesses, City Council introduced legislation on Thursday to expand outdoor dining options for restaurants throughout the five boroughs.

PHOTO: Employees set up tables at a restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla., on May 18, 2020.
Employees set up tables at a restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla., on May 18, 2020.
Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"Expanding outdoor dining space will not only help these restaurants thrive financially but give our city a sense of normalcy. The restaurant industry is a huge part of New York City. No matter where you live, you love your local restaurants," Speaker Corey Johnson said in the press conference. "This legislation will help give all New Yorkers better access to enjoy and support their local restaurants."

If passed, there would be a new streamlined permit process for bars and restaurants located in an area zoned for sidewalk cafes to utilize the newly identified open spaces like sidewalks, streets and plazas to serve customers outside.

The temporary permit would come at not cos for restaurants and allow them to set up outdoor tables.

Additionally, the bill would ask the city’s Department of Health for new safety protocols to ensure that restaurants follow proper social distancing and cleanliness parameters outside.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has backed the idea and gone so far as to identify bar-heavy spots where a plan like this could work, he has yet to issue any official guidance to act on the issue.

"It is not part of phase one, but it is something we'll have more to say on soon," de Blasio said, according to ABC New York station WABC.

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of NYC Hospitality Alliance, said "restaurants cannot wait any longer" and explained that they need clear criteria to move forward.

"They need money, they need customers, and you can tell New Yorkers are out and about. There's beautiful weather, so they're going to be out regardless," he explained on Thursday.

Local bar and restaurant owners like Linden Pride of Dante -- a popular spot that has switched to curbside takeaway in Greenwich Village -- told ABC News that he is a big proponent of the outdoor move.

Pride believes shutting down streets and opening up sidewalk space will allow for safer and more flexible dining options that help ensure more space without stifling capacity.

He also noted that while "space is limited," people want to be outside. "Now is the perfect time while the weather permits, before winter," he added. But even then, he said, if social distancing measures are still in place and outdoor dining is working, "there are heat-lamps and coverings, but who knows how long that could work."