One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is obvious as you head into the Bay Area’s many downtown districts: A lot more people are dining outdoors.
Outdoor dining was a saving grace for many restaurants during the pandemic, and now those establishments and their patrons are embracing the outside eating experience.
For some restaurants, the creation of outdoor dining areas was the only way they could survive. Now, keeping those spaces will give many restaurants a way to serve more customers and make up for lost time.
Sidecar Modern Tavern in Los Gatos opened exactly three months and three days before the first shelter order went into effect in March 2020. The restaurant went from 28 employees down to two, and despite a very inviting interior, the owners had to depend on outdoor dining to stay afloat.
Turns out the parklet set up in a loading zone outside the restaurant was very popular with diners and with the town of Los Gatos. So much so, the town went from a firm "no" to outdoor dining to helping fund permanent parklets for several businesses.
"It took a pandemic for them to turn it around to see people wanted this, that there was a need in the town," said Adam Chick of Sidecar Modern Tavern. "When it comes to expenses, it’s expensive. It’s a full build. There’s permits and liability, and it has to be perfect and nice, and luckily the city’s coming through and paying for a significant part of it."
Josh Allen, owner of Sidecar added: "It increases our seating capacity by 20-25%, which will really help on the road to recovery after a tough couple of years."
Other Bay Area communites also are embracing outdoor dining as a way to help restaurants make up for lost time and money, including Oakland, which voted to extend its program and streamline the application process.
San Jose did too, even waiving the permit fees for its "al fresco" dining program.
According to the National Restaurant Association, in the first year of the pandemic, more than 100,000 restaurants and bars closed either temporarily or permanently, and 2.5 million jobs in the industry disappeared.