As people begin venturing out to eat again after a year of lockdowns and restrictions, 75 percent say they are not comfortable with dining indoors. Restaurants and bars continue to creatively serve their customers in outdoor spaces amid concerns about the ongoing pandemic, and many are in the process of re-opening makeshift patios as weather warms.
Ensuring adherence to city and state regulations, keeping parking lots and sidewalks safe and obtaining the necessary city permits are keys to a successful outdoor dining season.
Auditing Your Outdoor Dining Space Before Permit Request
After cold winter weather, restaurants may need to refurbish outdoor dining spaces before reapplying for permits. Many cities are streamlining requirements to make the administrative process for establishing outdoor dining less cumbersome and more accessible.
Before applying for a permit or renewal, it’s in your best interest to audit the parking lot for any new safety hazards. Walk through the parking lot or sidewalk area and note any cracks, uneven pavement, potholes or debris that need to be cleared or repaired. Ensure that your dining space leaves adequate room for pedestrian traffic to safely flow through it and that barriers are set up to separate your dining area from vehicle traffic.
In addition, examine whether the appearance of the parking lot is detracting from the experience you want your patrons to have while dining outdoors. The aesthetic of the parking area may be more important now that patrons are spending more time there, compared to when they simply parked their cars and walked inside.
Repairing Your Space According to City Standards
If you notice necessary repair work during your audit, reach out to your city zoning department to understand if there are any programs in place to help shoulder the cost. Some cities across the country have revitalization programs to help residents and businesses with the cost of repairing or maintaining sidewalks that are dangerous or unattractive. Keep in mind that in most cities, sidewalk repairs are the responsibility of the property or business owners.
If there was property damage to your parking lot or sidewalks, it may be eligible to be covered by PPP dollars. It is important to ensure you are utilizing those funds for the specific criteria outlined; but it is always worth checking to see if a repair could be covered. Alternatively, depending on your city, if the space you’re leveraging for outdoor dining is public property, the city might be willing to meet you in the middle to cover cost or repairs. Starting a conversation with your permit liaison is the first place to start.
Reach out to an asphalt contractor as soon as your audit is complete to ensure that repair work can be done before you open the space for patrons and to ensure the safety of your customers and staff. Most repairs can be completed within a few days but contractors’ schedules can quickly fill up during the busy spring and summer seasons.
Navigating ADA Compliance in Outdoor Spaces
In addition to completing the necessary repairs and permit renewals, ensure that your space is ADA compliant. Early on in the pandemic, some restaurants came under fire for blocking individuals with wheelchairs from using city sidewalks.
To stay compliant, walkways need to allow plenty of space (36 inches) for people to access your dining space and restrooms, as well as additional requirements. You also must ensure that handicapped parking spaces are not utilized when you set up dining tables and chairs. Most city governments have the ADA compliance requirements accessible on their website.
Creating Signage to Increase Safety
Establishing an outdoor dining space in an existing parking lot or outdoor space will change the flow of traffic around your property. Restaurant owners will need to review the updated traffic patterns and add signage to clearly indicate:
- where customers should park
- where food delivery services should park and pick up meals
- where vehicles need to slow down
- where pedestrian walkways have been moved or adjusted
Bright, clear signage communicating any new driving patterns around your building will keep patrons and community members safe as well as ensure that you can obtain necessary permits.
Outdoor dining is likely here to stay, so ensure your restaurant completes its due diligence with city municipalities to avoid any fines or delays in service.