The Way Restaurants Will Survive this Pandemic

In the COVID era, restaurants face an uncertain future. Governments have the ability to change how restaurants operate at a moment’s notice based on the viral spread. The restaurant industry has no choice but to be open and flexible to try new things in order to survive. One of those innovations is turning parking lots, streets, and sidewalks into outdoor seating areas.

Restaurants lost more than $120 billion in sales during March, April, and May of this year. After the Corona-virus shutdown, petitions are being boosted all over the country to allow restaurants to spread out to sidewalks, parking lots, and even into streets as long as they adhere to health, sanitation, and safety guidelines. Outdoor seating is becoming a survival option for restaurants nationwide and becoming the new norm. A recent study done by the online publication Slate stated that nearly 40 percent of respondents said that they would rather eat at a restaurant outdoors compared to eating indoors. This concept of restaurants expanding to outdoor dining will attract larger quantities of customers and therefore increase revenue by allowing restaurants to “be at full capacity.” The Centers for Disease Control is encouraging socially distant dining in its new guideline on how Americans should resume daily life. Some Governors, such as California’s Gavin Newsom, have urged restaurants to prioritize and expand outdoor seating. Dining outside allows customers and attendants to be in an environment with better air circulation compared to an indoor dining where it has been shown that the virus is more easily transmitted.

As restaurants start to reopen due to the Corona-virus lock down, taking extra precautions with social distancing and cleanliness have become top priorities. Outdoor dining provides a sense of vibrancy and allows restaurant owners to serve more customers safer within code compliance. We recommend checking with your local jurisdiction as some cities are even expediting certain permits and waiving fees which is helping restaurants to move this often pricey and cumbersome process along quicker. By expanding square footage, restaurants can operate at their typical full occupancy rather than half or a quarter of the amount that would mandate for their indoor seating areas. For instance, Craft House in Dana Point, California reopened after a two-month quarantine and transformed 11 of the 20 spots in its parking lot into dining areas for their customers. Socially distanced outdoor dining has been a positive hit with residents and restaurants. Temporarily shutting down streets for farmers markets and music/art festivals has been common for cities, so why not for a Pandemic?

Our Top 3 Tips: How to Reconfigure your Parking Lot for Outdoor Dining

  1. Utilize the Space
  • Keep in mind, the average parking lot space is 130-140 SF
  • Incorporate Tactical Urbanism
    • Planters for instance are low-cost and effective barriers, and help transform a parking lot into an aesthetically pleasing space
  • Add string lights, outdoor décor, outdoor games, and live music (makes the environment more comfortable/inviting)
  • Add temporary lounge furniture for a relaxing feel
  • Use Vendors to increase sales such as food trucks and outdoor bars- bring the bar and drinks outside with a portable or movable bar
  1. Strategize Your Game Plan
  • Temporary outdoor dining must comply with the city’s noise ordinance (not allowed typically between the hours of 11 PM and 8 AM)
  • Location of outdoor dining must not restrict access to the restaurant and in an area that would restrict social distancing
  • There must be at least 6 feet of clearance between dining service and pedestrian traffic
  1. Be Cognizant of Health Guidelines
  • Making sure tables and chairs are well over 6 feet a part
  • Have accessible sanitation or hand sanitizer stations
  • Servers must be wearing masks and keep their distance from one another
  • Ensure surfaces are being regularly disinfected
  • Note that temporary dining arrangements may need to be inspected by the Fire Marshal’s office and/or registered with the city
  • Provide visual barriers and guides to create separation to ensure social distance guidelines
  • Providing a COVID-19 policy that is in a visible location for customers


SCGWest has experience in all stages of project completion from early location sourcing, planning and project development through visioning, design, construction, turnover and closeout. Our design-build process goes through defined stages of completion resulting in a quality that surpasses industry standards. It is our job to not just deliver successful outcomes, but also a smooth, enjoyable process that respects project owners’ investments. We are here to help YOU with your commercial real estate needs- no matter the size of the project.

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