by Adam Kavett
Getting It Right Isn’t Easy, But It Is Possible
It’s no secret that restaurants are struggling. The rapid evolution of pick-up and delivery has helped restaurants scrape by, and now out-of-home dining is starting to return. With fewer cars on the road, city leadership, design firms, urbanists, and businesses have been debating how to best use sidewalks and streets for outdoor dining and more. For some, it’s an opportunity to work towards a new vision of city life. For restaurants, it’s an urgent matter of survival, tempered by new costs, reduced capacity, and public health responsibilities.
A Critical Moment
Dine-in traffic across the US is still down 60% YoY (OpenTable). We’re at a critical moment, with reopening paused in many states, including an indefinite delay on indoor dining in NYC. It’s already mid-July and before we know it, a change in seasons will make outdoor dining far less practical. Over 8,000 NYC restaurants have applied for sidewalk and/or street dining. Yet, many people are simply not ready to dine out, even outdoors. How restaurants respond is critical in either inspiring or devastating customer confidence. While constant adaptation is needed, avoiding early mistakes can save money and make customers and staff more comfortable.
While the NYC DOT has provided guidelines for different sidewalk and street configurations, there’s room for interpretation and there have been hiccups along the way. A week after launch, rules were revised to specify a minimum 18” width for street barriers, requiring many restaurants to scramble to meet the new standards (or just wait to be fined). New conflicts exist on the street – with pedestrians, cars, and bike lanes. Masks are still required outdoors, but paradoxically, not for diners. Though it’s impossible to eat with a mask on, this can put pedestrians and staff who are wearing masks uncomfortably close to diners who aren’t. You still have to go inside if you need a restroom.
The Do’s and Don’t of Outdoor Dining
The storefront is more important than ever. Every new element and surface provides an opportunity to establish an aesthetic and display menus and promotions. Signs showing customers to where to line up for take-out or dine in should be easily legible at least 15 feet away. Large printed menus visible from a distance can help to reduce lines and draw more visitors.
Good line management is critical to getting customers seated quickly and avoiding walk-outs for those on the fence.
Getting capacity right is key to success. Safety should always come first, but make sure you’re getting the most out of your space. Make sure your table types are optimized for smaller groups than usual (2-tops can be turned into 4 or 6-tops if needed, but not the other way around). Partitions between tables are ideal. Avoid long communal counters – these are likely to be used less efficiently now, or just unsafely.
Outdoor comfort cannot be overlooked. It gets hot on top of pavement – nobody minds a fan, shade or cool mist in the summer. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can extend the season when it starts cooling off.
Delivering good value is more important than ever. Shifting to prix-fixe and more limited menus can help deliver better value, while maximizing profits and improving table turn.
Digital solutions need clear instructions – make it abundantly clear how to make reservations, pre-order, use QR code menus, and new payment systems.
Make sure your staff are heard and comfortable. Good service is impossible otherwise.
Envirosell has a long history working with the food service industry – from QSR to fine dining, small and large. Let’s discuss how we can help you stay ahead of the curve.