Offering Outdoor Dining During COVID-19
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has made dining out complicated for restaurant patrons and businesses alike. But it doesn’t mean that you have to close your doors until things return back to normal. There are still safe ways to offer in-person outdoor dining experiences to patrons even during the second wave of the pandemic.
However, you’ll need to take some preventative steps and invest in some important equipment to ensure the highest level of health and safety for both your staff and customers. That’s why Zanduco Restaurant Equipment & Supplies is here to provide you with some insight into opening your doors safely and effectively during COVID-19.
COVID-19 Challenges During Winter
With the cold weather upon us, you might be wondering how you can still offer a safe in-person dining experience in those sub-zero Canadian temperatures. Believe us, it isn’t impossible, but it does take some creative thinking, and preparation. Unfortunately, simply installing heaters outside in your patio dining area won’t be enough to weather the winter.
In addition to the right heating elements, restaurants that want to continue serving customers outdoors even during the colder months will also need to invest in something to keep that heat around, like geodesic dome tents or igloos that offer both privacy as well as a cozy outdoor dining experience.
But don’t stop there: you can use the winter weather to your advantage, creating a one-of-a-kind dining experience customers aren’t likely to find elsewhere. Think ice sculptures or creating a unique open bar experience in a snowbank in front of your establishment. These things might seem superficial, but they’ll really stick with customers who are trying to adapt to in-person dining experiences under the “new normal” conditions of COVID-19.
The Challenges of Winterizing Patios
Those who want to winterize their patio dining areas will find that it can be quite the undertaking, but it pays off immensely in terms of increasing your business options. There are some key challenges that you should be aware of and that you’ll likely need to tackle when winterizing your patio, such as:
- Decreased ventilation in enclosures that can cause an added risk of COVID-19 transmission.
- Structural safety issues of enclosures/structures during icy weather or snowstorms.
- Maintaining the proper physical distance requirements in an enclosed area.
- The added risk of CO2 exposure and fire hazard due to the misuse of heating equipment.
- Emergency plans.
- Accommodating patrons with disabilities.
How to Implement Enclosed Outdoor Dining
If you’ve decided to implement enclosed outdoor dining or feature a patio dining area, then there are two important scenarios you should avoid at all costs. The first is having a particularly tight enclosure with limited air exchange because this increases the possibility of short-range aerosol transmission between those dining inside. Secondly, creating a drafty enclosure that turns into an air funnel, drastically increasing the possibility of respiratory transmission.
There are a lot of factors that can affect ventilation outdoors, which is why many have chosen to treat their outdoor dining areas and patios like an indoor space, investing in ventilation systems designed to be used outdoors but that also meet the necessary standards.
Create an Action Plan
Having a clear idea of how you want to roll out in-person dining at your establishment is one of the best ways to be successful, so create an action plan. You can develop plans on a 30, 60, and 90-day basis to see what works and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly. Your action plan should include cash flow projections for each span of time, as well as backup plans should you not meet those expectations. Exploring the “what-if” scenarios will help make things easier if you don’t meet your projected profit margins.
Analyze Things at the Hyperlocal Level
Now, more than ever, you’ll be relying on your local customer base. There’s much less foot traffic and tourism happening nowadays, so your patrons will come from the area directly nearby; folks who already know you’re there and what you offer. This also means that you’ll need to pay special attention to any of the local mandates and ordinances in place to adjust your offerings accordingly or tweak your plan on a daily basis.
Offer Flexible Options
These days, it’s all about being flexible, catering to your customers’ needs and expectations, and adhering to all of the necessary precautions and best practices. You’ll need to be able to have a finger on the pulse of your clientele and assess their levels of anxiety about eating out and determine the best way to put their minds at ease.
Some of the most effective, flexible dining options include:
- Park & Eat: You can have patrons drive to a designated parking area and have them dine, with servers coming to the car occasionally to check on them. Partnering with a local theater for dinner and a movie night is a great way to attract new clientele.
- Single-Party Dining Enclosures: You can get creative with these and install everything from yurts to big bubbles, just be certain to provide as much ventilation as possible. Offering single-party enclosures help make it easier for patrons to stick to their “bubbles” or close-contact units.
- Creative Heating Options: Gas-powered heaters aren’t the only way to keep patrons outdoors toasty and warm. Get creative and offer hot water bottles or electric blankets for a bit of extra comfort.
- Convertible or Modular Designs: There are some modular offerings out there that can be converted to accommodate varying numbers of diners and scaled up or down.
- The “Sterilization” Approach: Another measure many restaurants can take, on top of existing safety and health measures, is to implement a thorough system of sterilization. UV irradiation can easily sterilize outdoor dining areas before and after patrons leave. However, the effectiveness of UV sterilization also depends upon the surfaces you have present.
Contact us today for more outdoor dining and patio dining solutions!
For those in need of products and solutions to create the ideal outdoor dining experience, Zanduco Restaurant Equipment & Supplies can help. To learn more about our inventory of kitchen equipment, contact us today by calling 1 (855) 926-3826.