Winter is coming, but the dining restrictions created because of the coronavirus outbreak may not be going away. Restaurants that have relied on outdoor seating during the warmer months will have to make modifications to survive the colder weather. Plastic dining bubbles and other changes may help them stay open through the winter.
“The question about outdoor dining during the winter is underscored by the fact that restaurants cannot survive for long on 25% indoor capacity, as we see in New York City, and probably not even 50%. This means that restaurants will have to continue outdoor dining gains that were seen over the warm summer months,” Jim Williams, CEO of MustHaveMenus, said.
Café du Soleil, a French restaurant in New York City, is already testing the use of plastic bubbles in its outdoor seating area. The quarantine bubbles are keeping diners separated from each other to maintain social distancing requirements.
“The use of plastic bubbles is a great novelty that we are seeing tested in NYC and elsewhere. Customers love novelty, and they love the special ambiance of being outdoors yet in a semi-private space. MustHaveMenus believes these will gain popularity as the big cities prove they can work in all but the most stormy or windy conditions. If restaurants can keep outdoor dining open 80% of the time, that is a big win. It probably means they double their seating capacity if indoors is limited to 25%,” Williams said.
Large plastic bubbles are not the only winter dining trend you may see in the coming months. In order to maximize space while following coronavirus safety rules, restaurants may have to rely on more propane heat lamps outdoors as temperatures fall. Some restaurants have used them in the past during winter or nighttime activities, so the change should not be difficult to make.
According to Williams, other coronavirus responses may include restaurants switching to touchless QR code menus, disposable menus or wipe and wash laminated menus. Restaurants may also have to adjust takeout and pick-up strategies in the winter months.
“Luckily, the city governments have been very open to strategies for making use of outdoor dining space. They are going to need to extend the seasonal limits for outdoor dining or just get rid of them. I understand NYC has said that they are considering extending the October 31 limit on outdoor dining. I can easily imagine that they take a new approach that closes outdoor dining only during extreme weather periods,” Williams said.
To avoid more layoffs and closures this winter, businesses may have to make many changes to survive. You may end up dining in an outdoor plastic bubble as restaurants struggle to stay open.