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How to Make Outdoor Dining Safer for Staff and Customers



San Francisco’s Chinatown recently began an initiative to close off certain streets to vehicle traffic in order to provide more outdoor retail and dining space. While this arrangement is only during weekends, restaurants are already feeling an uptake in business. The ability for restaurants to have outdoor dining has been a positive development for many establishments. But before you rush off to block off the street in front of your diner, let’s have a look at how you can make your outdoor dining area safer for staff and customers.


Restaurants that don’t have a patio or outdoor dining area might need to block off a part of the sidewalk or even take over some parking spaces in front of their outlets. Certainly, the first thing to do is to check with local regulations. Special permits may be needed for this arrangement during the pandemic. More often than not, they are easy to apply for, and are free or much more affordable than regular permits. Some of them allow same day approval so definitely check out your city's website for more information on how your area is handling these permits.


In general, when compared with indoor dining, an outdoor space should have much more air movement so particles potentially containing viruses dissipate faster. Tented space with large tops and open sides would be considered safe but some restaurants have arranged tents with plastic curtains on all sides. These spaces have limited air movement which still places diners at a greater risk. For additional safety measures, distance tables at least 6 feet apart and limit the number of people in each group.


Keep in mind, also, that while serving staff interact with guests outdoors, they deal with multiple parties, clear plates and utensils, handle payment and conduct work indoors as well. Cooking staff are still confined within enclosed kitchens. Make sure all employees are masked and gloved at all times. Implement employee safety measures including temperature checks, frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers.


Finally, take a moment to make sure the environment outside of your restaurant is appropriate for dining. Rodents and insects often linger near drains and dense shrubs. Although it’s challenging for urban restaurant owners to avoid setting up near these areas, diners won’t be able to enjoy their meals when they’re constantly swatting away flies. Likewise, if your business is located on a street with heavy traffic, place barriers between your tables and passing cars to minimize vehicle exhaust drifting into your dining area.