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Restaurants Place Expensive Bets Ahead of Winter Outdoor Dining

Restaurant owners and operators are gearing up for another winter of outdoor dining.

While many had to scramble in 2020 to find tents and propane heaters, restaurateurs are adding higher-quality permanent setups for the coming winter, reported The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 7). Going even further, some are preparing for outdoor dining to become a permanent option.


With more time to make arrangements than last year, restaurant owners are investing large amounts of money on what they anticipate diners will want when temperatures drop. In addition to outdoor equipment and décor, some owners are tweaking menus to offer warm, well-executed dishes and hot-themed drinks.

Such plans are all a risk given what is going on in the foodservice industry, from supply shortages to a lack of workers. However, owners are betting on the creative setups being enough to lure more diners out of their homes.


Some restaurant operators are pushing to keep their outdoor dining structures around permanently, reported CNBC (Oct. 3).

San Francisco’s board of supervisors already voted in favor of making dining parklets permanent, while Atlanta and Philadelphia are among the cities considering similar measures.

New York City is currently hammering out the details for more sustainable outdoor dining rules following Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to make its Open Restaurants program permanent a year ago. The city’s planning and transportation departments launched a citywide public engagement process for design rules on permanent outdoor setups, reported CBS New York (Oct. 6). The guidelines will be released in the spring, and the application process is anticipated to start late next year.

However, not all are in favor of these types of measures. Some nearby retailers have filed complaints about noisy outdoor customers and the loss of parking spaces.

Opponents have also complained about sanitation and the safety of outdoor dining structures. Recently a Manhattan sanitation truck accidentally picked up a street-side dining structure with a person inside, dragging it down the street.


Meanwhile, only 9% of restaurant chains believe they have a program in place that won’t need to be changed under the Biden Administration’s Path Out of the Pandemic COVID-19 Action Plan, which will mandate vaccines or weekly testing at companies with 100 or more employees, according to Black Box Intelligence.

Additionally, as abuse towards foodservice workers abounds, some restaurant operators are concerned about “policing” mandates for guests.  Cities including New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco already have policies in place or plans to require customers to show proof of vaccination to eat at restaurants or participate in other indoor activities.