Several busy streets in Chicago, New York and other cities are closed to traffic this summer, giving restaurants the go-ahead to move tables outside. Officials are also allowing operators to commandeer parking lots, convert rooftops and overflow onto sidewalks to bring in much-needed revenue. In many cases, permits have been expedited and local and municipal ordinances extend through October.
Restaurants that had patio seating pre-coronavirus are now enlarging their footprint, adding tables to accommodate more diners.
The move outside is proving to be lucrative for many, and a lifesaver for others. “In total, our restaurants opened for outdoor dining only are currently doing volumes of nearly 90% on average of Cheesecake Factory locations with indoor dining rooms open," David Gordon, president of the casual-dining chain, said during an earnings call this week.
Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul is situated on “a street that goes nowhere,” said owner Brian Ingram. So he was able to close the street and set up tables and chairs. “We brought back customers who missed our all-day breakfast menu and attracted new customers. Business is up 100% compared to when COVID shut the restaurant,” he said.
Take a look at the innovative ways other restaurateurs are taking it outside and boosting sales and traffic.
A parklet grows in D.C.
Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, located smack in the middle of a busy Washington, D.C. neighborhood, converted a parking lane into a what it’s calling a “parklet.” The space forms an expansive open-air dining room protected by umbrellas and decorated with lush tropical plants. Cuba Libre always had a small sidewalk café, but annexing the parking lane provides seating for 80 socially distanced guests. The menu of rum cocktails and Latin food is available to all outdoor guests.
Under the dome
“Out Source” is the name coined for the new outdoor venue created by The Source Hotel + Market Hall in Denver. Customers can sit under geodesic domes handmade of natural wood with canvas canopies and designed by local artist Mathieu Mudie. There’s also lounge seating and traditional patio tables. Every weekend, Smok Barbecue offers a food and drink menu and guests can also grab food from the market vendors to eat outside.
Separated by edible crops
Brooklyn, N.Y. isn’t known as farm country, but Greg Baxtrom, chef-owner of Olmsted, grows vegetables and herbs in the tiny backyard of his restaurant. This summer, he arranged benches and small tables around the raised beds. The crops form leafy green barriers between guests as well as produce for Olmsted Trading Post, a retail operation inside the restaurant. Outside, diners can enjoy snacks and drinks.
Beyond the usual patio
Urban Plates, a health-focused fast casual with 19 restaurants, has set up additional tables on sidewalks, parking lots and vacant outdoor spaces to create expanded courtyards and patios. At its Woodland Hills, Calif. location, the outdoor patio was extended into a secondary unused patio recently vacated by a shuttered restaurant, nearly doubling the seating capacity. Another unit moved tables into parking spots.
Make way for the pups
Chicago closed the service lanes of West Randolph Street, known as “restaurant row,” by locals and tourists, and many operators are taking advantage of the move. Bar Siena, an eatery on Randolph, has a small side patio but set up additional tables on the sidewalk and in the street, offering a Puppy Ciao menu to customers with dogs. Included is diced grilled chicken, burger or skirt steak and a doggy dessert called “woof cream” for $2. Their owners can choose from pizzas, pastas and apps, along with summery cocktails, wine and beer.
A chic backyard retreat
On the bustling Upper East Side of Manhattan, Schaller’s Stube Sausage Bar fashioned a hidden backyard restaurant modeled after an Austrian-style wine bar. It even has a different name—Blume—and features charcuterie plates, cheese boards and sandwiches along with Austrian wines and a selection of beers. Twenty guests can be accommodated, seated around gold tables on pink chairs.
Dinner and a movie
Like New York City, San Francisco is not known for its surplus of outdoor space, but Curio in the city’s Mission District found a way to make the most of what it has. The restaurant sports a covered outdoor patio and recently transformed an adjacent lot into “an urban garden party.” Festive umbrellas and lights decorate the 1,000-square-foot space, live music is on hand and silent movies occasionally play in the background as customers eat and drink. A new, simpler menu is offered, featuring smoked ribs, tuna tartare, spring rolls and burgers.
Down the alley
Back in Chicago, chef-driven Indian restaurant Rooh also took over an empty lot next door to add patio seating. The space, marked with parking spots, was more of an abandoned alley before, but now guests sit at socially distanced tables under a canopy of string lights. The seasonal menu has been pared back slightly to dishes that are less complicated to eat outside and there’s a concise selection of signature cocktails.
Up on the roof
The third floor of Gnocherria in New York City’s financial district was originally planned as a fullservice, sit-down restaurant, but midway through the pandemic, the owners transformed it into a rooftop oasis with a bar and menu of seafood paninis and small plates. To add protection, separation and ambience, smaller tables are covered with transparent greenhouses.