Restaurants relying on outdoor dining prepare to take a hit as fall approaches

Posted at 3:08 PM, Sep 15, 2020

The first day of fall is just one week away and restaurants are preparing to take another hit.

“A lot of us are going into these months thinking, you know, how many more days can I survive until I have to close my restaurant?” said Kevin Boehm, a co-founder of the Boka Restaurant Group, an independent restaurant coalition.

Boehm is also a restaurant owner in Chicago, where COVID-19 restrictions have slashed indoor capacity. And he says outdoor seating won't be possible much longer.

The National Restaurant Association surveyed owners around the country. About three quarters say they're using patio space right now and hope to continue doing so for a least a few more weeks.

Outdoor dining is bringing in nearly half of their daily sales but keeping customers outside will soon get more costly.

“Equipment for outdoor dining, especially when it gets cold, get expensive, be it a tent for a parking lot, be it heaters or anything like that, that starts adding up in costs,” said Mike Whatley, VP of State and Local Affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

The association wants local governments to start grant programs for buying that equipment to keep temporary regulations in place that allow for more outdoor service.

The coalition hopes to see increased indoor capacity for cooler months. They're also lobbying for Congress to pass the Restaurants Act, which would create a $120 billion grant program for independent restaurants.

Boehm says there could be rolling closures through the winter.

“By the time we get to next summer, we're going to be looking at a much smaller array of restaurants, a lot less choices, a lot more chains, and the independent restaurant is going to be an endangered species,” said Boehm.

The National Restaurant Association says owners that are innovative are the ones that will make it through this crisis.