Dining Out in a Post-COVID World

Dining Out in a Post-COVID World
The Long-Term Necessity of Indoor-Outdoor Restaurant Space

The coronavirus pandemic pushed the pop-up patio concept to new realms this year, as restaurants across the U.S. set up makeshift outdoor dining spaces using temporary fencing, plastic bubbles, yurts, and plywood domes – in combination with things like curtains, space heaters, and bring-your-own-blanket policies to make spaces tolerable in winter weather.

But such measures can be expensive for restaurateurs who are already facing hardship from closures and capacity limits. Then there is the safety aspect – not only ensuring outdoor dining areas are COVID-safer, but also not traffic hazards. Installing a permanent indoor-outdoor dining solution would alleviate some of those challenges by providing fresh air, extra seating, and an enhanced atmosphere year-round – which helps draw diners and boost revenue.

Temporary outdoor dining structures can be costly and potentially unsafe. Jay Coldren, managing director for national hospitality strategy and design firm Eat + Drink Studio at Streetsense, says proprietors are paying between $1,500 and $5,000 for a single four-top tent. A volunteer group called the Storefront Safety Council reported more than 20 vehicles crashing into outdoor dining areas since pop-up patios began appearing on a wide scale in 2020, up from the previous average of 4-5 vehicles per year.

Given the safety concerns and costs of temporary outdoor areas, many restaurant owners are employing a long-term solution: large sliding glass doors that open entire walls of their buildings to the outdoors.

Fresh air and proper ventilation are especially important to guard against the spread of airborne illnesses. Enclosed outdoor spaces like tents and domes don’t facilitate proper air flow. New York City’s outdoor dining definition labels outdoor spaces walled in on three or more sides as indoor restaurants, capped at 25 percent capacity. “I understand that in order for air to pass into a space it also has to have a place to go. If you have a tent with just a single door open, that doesn’t present a way for air to exit that space,” Kakani Katija, a bioengineer who lives in Monterey, California, told Bloomberg in November.

Glass sliding or folding doors can open an entire wall of a restaurant to the outdoors, allowing fresh air to freely course throughout the space, At the Scottsdale, Arizona, outpost of the Southwestern restaurant chain Z’Tejas, a raised platform frames the patio, lounge, and dining areas with Series 9500 Bi-Fold Doors that completely open the corner of the restaurant to the outside.

At the Scottsdale location of Asian food chain P.F. Chang’s, Series 9500 Bi-Fold Windows neatly stack to the side to create massive openings for fresh air and natural light.

The extra seating provided by indoor-outdoor restaurant spaces can also provide extra profit. “Basically, when the weather is nice, you’re adding a whole other restaurant, and with that comes added revenue,” according to media company Restaurant Engine. “By offering additional seating outside, you increase the number of meals you serve each night, thus improving your bottom line.”

Paul Martin’s American Grill in Scottsdale expanded its seating with an outdoor patio separated from the main dining room by Series 600 Multi-Slide Doors that blur the boundaries between the interior and exterior.

The enhanced atmosphere of a connection to the outdoors is another benefit of using sliding or folding doors in restaurant spaces. “Mother Nature provides her own ambiance and great views,” Restaurant Engine states. “Plus, when the weather is beautiful, your diners feel more festive.”

An example of fenestration facilitating festive feelings can be seen at Joyride Taco House in Phoenix, Arizona, where Series 600 Multi-Slide Doors are installed on three sides of the restaurant, opening onto a modern wraparound patio adorned with trees and party lights.

The enhanced atmosphere, expanded space, and improved ventilation provided by moving walls of glass will have long-term benefits for restaurant owners, even after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

David Rockwell, president of New York-based architecture and design firm Rockwell Group, told Architectural Digest in July, “Based on what we know about COVID-19, I think we will see more restaurants redefining the boundary between indoors and out. In the long run, restaurants will have to be adaptable, with seating plans that expand and contract easily and quickly, providing a great experience in every format.”