Outdoor dining is on the rise. The pandemic led to a cosmic shift in the ways that people want to eat at restaurants. Some people have put their fears aside and have gone right back to indoor dining.

However, some people prefer a restaurant with outdoor dining.


  • Some people like restaurants with outdoor dining because they feel less cramped
  • Many diners still want to leverage natural airflow that's only possible outdoors

However, there is more of a reason than ever to consider restaurant outdoor dining.

restaurant with outdoor dining

What the National Restaurant Association Has to Do with Outdoor Dining

The Association is a very vocal advocate for restaurants, and they sent a letter to mayors across the United States in October asking local leaders to help expand outdoor dining. In fact, a few recommendations were made in the letter, such as:

  • Expanding outdoor dining allowances
  • Reducing the requirements for permitting
  • Offering funding to promote outdoor dining

Winter is near, and many restaurants are driving 20% of their overall sales through their outdoor patio dining. However, colder weather is likely to cause many restaurants to stop their outdoor dining, which is expected to harm sales greatly during the winter.

Due to local regulations, it's estimated that nearly 68% of full-service establishments will need to close outdoor dining in winter as early as the end of October.

Throughout the country, some 30% of restaurants will keep their outdoor spaces open all season. Due to the lost sales over the last two years, many establishments cannot withstand another loss in profits.

What the Impact of Closing Outdoor Dining May Be

Due to growing customer demand, there has been a massive expense of street, sidewalk, and expanded patio dining. New York is a prime example of an area of the country where outdoor dining rooms are booming.

However, due to compliance issues, many of these spaces have been removed by city officials.

When polled, it was found that 60% of adults have changed their dining plans. In addition, rising COVID cases have led to more people preferring to eat outside. One poll at the end of August found that just under 20% of people preferred eating outside.

However, it ought to be noted that the poll was during a warmer season, so cold weather may drop the percentage of outdoor eaters drastically.

Sadly, there's also a difference in outdoor dining pods for the summer and winter. Winter weather will require additional investments from restaurants that want to keep their outdoor spaces open.

The National Restaurant Association recommends that funding be allotted, and the permitting process be streamlined to help keep these spaces open in the winter.

Winter 2020 as an Example

In the winter of 2020, as people were still dealing with high coronavirus cases across the country, many municipalities and companies that relied on restaurants started to offer grants and support for winterizing outdoor spaces.

With that in mind, there has been little support for restaurants with outdoor dining in winter 2021.

Permits and Issues

Lawmakers have not been prudent enough to help restaurants during this time of year. Many restaurants voiced concern in 2020 when grants and assistance were given because they were given very late in the season.

Due to local laws, many restaurants were pressed for time to have their space winterized before closing for the season.

Additionally, permitting took a long time. Many restaurant owners remain in the dark on what steps to take in 2021/2022, too. Some question whether they can have their outdoor space permit extended or if they need to reapply in a last-minute rush.

States across the country are:

  • Expanding outdoor dining
  • Pushing legislation to improve outdoor dining options

The support from the Association is a boost to restaurants that have been left out of support packages on the Federal level. Federal assistance isn't likely to be available, so it's up to local lawmakers to help boost the industry.

The National Restaurant Association warns that if there isn't an expansion of outdoor dining, there's a risk that many businesses in the industry will not be able to last the winter.

outdoor patio dining

Recommendations for Outdoor Dining

If you're a restaurant that is trying to survive the winter months, it is a good time to check in with your local city council to see what help is available in your area. Developments in outdoor dining are changing rapidly, and it's never a bad idea to verify if help is or isn't available.

In the best-case scenario, you'll have opportunities to

  • Secure streamline permitting
  • Apply for grants or assistance

If you're permitted to open outdoor space, start small before scaling up. Many restaurants invest too much money in their outdoor space and never reach capacity. You should try and keep the space to a reasonable size so that on busy days, you're occupying a good amount of space.

You can always decide to expand the dining area in the future if you find that it's too small for your growing customer base.

Encouraging diners to eat in the space is possible when you truly embrace your surroundings and work off of the space. For example, a few ideas that can help you make the space attractive for customers are:

  • Place seating near trees
  • Create an atmosphere that feels romantic
  • Add in lightings, such as a fairy or twinkling lights

Of course, you need to be mindful of the requirements set by your city. It's crucial to adhere to the spacing and distancing guidelines. Also, while you may have squeezed in a few additional patrons in your space than allowed in the past, do not make this mistake outside.

Since restaurants are already struggling to get help from the local and federal government, you want to do everything you can to encourage additional support in the future.

Invest wisely in your outdoor space, make it inviting, and always remind customers that they have the option to eat outdoors. Many people will choose your restaurant over others if you offer outdoor dining options.