Over the past year, restaurants have heavily relied on outdoor dining as a way to safely host guests while following COVID-19 protocols. We have seen so many different outdoor dining trends: restaurants creating outdoor seating in parking lots in the summer months, igloos for the harsh winters, and makeshift covered spaces with heaters for the months in between. This has not been an easy feat for restaurants to take on, especially in the cold months, but they have made it work creatively.
We are now just a few days away from spring, so we’re feeling optimistic that the harsh weather is just about behind us for many areas in the country. We are excited to see the many outdoor dining trends that will emerge in the spring and summer months to accommodate as many guests as possible, and we have some predictions on what those trends may be.
Standard outdoor seating
As mentioned above, restaurants have made outdoor seating work even in the smallest spaces. New York City restaurants even launched the Open Restaurants program, which now permanently allows for outdoor dining year-round on the city sidewalks and portions of streets outside of restaurants. The real estate for New York City restaurants is small, so having access to the sidewalks has allowed restaurants to stay open during the pandemic while indoor dining had been closed. We predict that standard outdoor seating on sidewalks will continue this spring and summer as diners everywhere are excited to get back out in the warm weather once again.
Restaurants have pushed the boundaries and created dining setups that they had never used before. Now that they have put the time, money, and resources into creating these spaces, they may as well stick around even after the pandemic is over. Many restaurants that could afford to rebuild structures, like covered overhead patios, have kept their setups throughout all the seasons. Restaurants with motorized awnings or screens overhead are able to open and close them depending on the weather conditions. Some even have screened-in sections that did not cost much to create but have significantly increased dining space. Space heaters will likely still be key when there are some chilly nights as well. Regardless of which route a restaurant has gone to prepare for the past year, they most likely can continue the same setup into 2021 with these multi-season structures.
Takeout kits or window service
Not all restaurants have the physical space or restaurant setup to create grand outdoor dining structures for large amounts of people. That is why takeout kits or window-style service may also be popular trends for the warmer months. We consider this an “outdoor dining trend” because while it may not be on the restaurant’s property, diners will still love to grab kits or meals-to-go and eat them outdoors in their community. What would be better than grabbing a to-go margarita kit, tacos, and guacamole to enjoy at the park in beautiful weather? That sounds like an ideal situation! To-go kits and takeout service have been popular all throughout quarantine and could be a wonderful and casual option to continue offering for those who still do not want to go to a restaurant.
Events are making a comeback and with the warm weather returning and vaccines rolling out, we predict that the rest of 2021 will be great for outdoor events. If your restaurant or venue already has the outdoor patio or event space for outdoor events, then you’re in luck. If you’ve transformed your space to accommodate more dining space, then maybe that area can also be transformed for an event setup. While there will still be capacity limits in play for a bit longer, restaurants and venues can get creative in order to get these events on the books. Play around with your room capacities, event flow, and venue buyout capacity in order to create these events. Groups are thinking about how they can celebrate the many missed occasions from the past year, and they are looking for venues now. Make sure your restaurant, hotel, or unique venue can make it happen.
If you are a catering service or a restaurant that offers catering, then consider catering as another revenue driver in 2021. Groups may choose to host an outdoor event in the comfort of their own backyard, but may be in need of a catering service. Now that the weather is nice again, people who feel most comfortable gathering together outside may be looking to do so now. As we said above, events are making a comeback, so if you can offer a catered option as well as an in-house option, this increases your flexibility for your clients. Microparties, which were popular outdoor gatherings at the start of the pandemic at an off-site location, could also make a comeback. The rest of 2021 is looking good for the event industry, but it is also good business to offer multiple packages in order to appeal to everyone’s comfort levels.