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As COVID Persists, Restaurants Reinvest in Outdoor Dining

America’s restaurateurs say they’ve overcome the growing pains from last year’s shaky, COVID-inspired outdoor dining season, a new report by The Wall Street Journal says.

Last year, eateries were putting together makeshift open-air dining options that left diners feeling dissatisfied. But this year, restaurant owners have had more time to prepare, investing in better-quality outdoor setups or altering their menus to offer warm meals and hot drinks, the WSJ said in its report on Thursday (Oct. 7).

For example, Fork restaurant in Philadelphia spent the winter of 2020/2021 going through more than 10 propane tanks a night to fuel the heat lamps placed between outdoor tables. “A couple of times, I went to Home Depot in the middle of service,” said owner Ellen Yin. She has since invested in overhead infrared heaters and will also offer diners blankets, as well as cider, broth and warm tea on cold nights. The restaurant will also serve items in cast-iron baking dishes, which keep food warmer longer.

As the story notes, 80% of diners say they are in favor of restaurants having permanent outdoor dining options, whether that means tables on sidewalks, streets or parking lots. But that doesn’t mean these diners will be happy simply eating outdoors. “Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you need to be sitting in a plastic chair,” New York resident Patrick Kandawire told the Journal.

Read more: Restaurants Push to Keep Street Dining

Meanwhile, some cities are taking measures to make outdoor dining more permanent, as PYMNTS reported earlier this week. San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted in July to make outdoor dining parklets permanent, while similar legislation is being considered in Atlanta and Philadelphia. There has been some pushback, however, due in part to safety concerns.

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