How Expanded Outdoor Seating Can Maximize Your Restaurant’s Profits

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Expanded outdoor seating may be just what you need to maximize profits during COVID-19. Many cities and counties across the country now permit outdoor dining in expanded areas, even when indoor dining is prohibited or restricted.

In a nutshell, it’s easier to continue serving your customers and stay profitable with expanded outdoor dining during this challenging period for the restaurant and bar industry.

Dining Regulations Across the Country

States across the country have had varied responses to ensuring safe dining during COVID-19. Most states have resumed dine-in operations with various restrictions. However, some states, including Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, only allow outdoor dining with conditions.

Things get more confusing since localities can enforce their own restrictions. For instance, the state of New York allows indoor dining with restrictions, but New York City only allows outdoor dining with limitations.

Miami-Dade County in Florida is similar. It just recently allowed restaurants to begin reopening indoor dining, even though the rest of the state has permitted dine-in service for a while.

Understanding county restrictions compared to state restrictions can be dizzying. California is trying to simplify the confusion as it begins to reopen the state.

California’s Approach to Dine-In Versus Outdoor Dining

California Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a new plan for reopening. It breaks counties into four risk tiers.

Tier-one counties are high risk. Most of the state is still classified as a tier-one risk (as of the time of writing). This includes counties like Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Fresno. Tier-four counties are the lowest risk. The state has three tier-four counties right now: Modoc county, Alpine County, and Tuolumne.

Each tier has varying regulations.

  • Tier one only allows outdoor dining, and bars are still closed.
  • From tier two and beyond, indoor dining is allowed with restrictions.
  • In tier three counties, bars can open with outdoor service.
  • In tier four, bars can offer sit-in services with restrictions.

Even with this new system, county officials in California can still be more restrictive.

Wherever you’re located, things continue to be volatile for the restaurant and bar industry. Some restaurants are choosing to take their success into their own hands by offering expanded outdoor seating.

Restaurants Take Initiative with Expanded Outdoor Seating

One example of this approach is J and Tony’s on 9th street in San Diego. They expanded into the street, took over a few parking spots, and have done an amazing job at utilizing their outdoor space. But it’s not just J and Tony’s taking this approach.

Italian restaurant and pizzeria Blade 1936 in Oceanside, California expanded its existing patio by adding a tent in the parking lot to accommodate 65 to 70 socially-distanced diners. The tent is decorated with string lights and artificial hedges for a charming outdoor dining experience.


Half of Breakfast Republic’s locations have expanded onto the sidewalk, courtyard space, or parking lot. After regulations were imposed, the Pacific Beach location only had seating for about thirty people—compared to one-hundred and seventy pre-COVID. By adding extended seating in the parking lot, they were able to bump capacity up to around eighty.

The Tsunami restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, turned their side parking lot into an outdoor dining oasis. They set up blue canopies, faux flowers, and twinkle lights to create a 600-foot outdoor dining space.


These are just a few examples of restaurants that have taken the initiative to expand outdoor seating. The expansion has allowed some restaurants to stay operational and helped others reach higher capacity than would be possible with the social-distancing regulations for indoor dining.

You can duplicate this success in your eating establishment, too. Here are some tips to get you started.

Best Tips for Expanded Outdoor Seating

Everyone has unique needs, but here are our six favorite tips.

  1. Check Local Rules: The laws are continuously changing, so it’s wise to stay informed about what is allowed and what isn’t. Most areas also require additional permits to expand your outdoor dining area, so be sure to check the local rules first.
  2. Find the Extra Space: Do you have a parking lot, sidewalk space, an alleyway, or other outdoor space to utilize? Get creative and find places to expand.
  3. Ask Your Neighbors: If you’re situated next to another establishment that doesn’t need their sidewalk space, ask about using theirs. Many municipalities allow permits to use adjacent sidewalk space with the owner’s written permission.
  4. Consider Expanding: If you don’t have sidewalk space, consider adding an outdoor patio instead. Restaurants across Detroit, Michigan, erected patios and temporary outdoor dining areas for their customers.
  5. Create an Aesthetically Pleasing Environment: People still want their dining experience to be special. Find ways to decorate and create an inviting and memorable atmosphere outdoors. You can do this with:
  • Lighting
  • Canopies and Umbrellas
  • Plants and Foliage
  • Fun Signage and Other Décor
  • Ambient Music and Pleasant Scents
  1. Prioritize Safety: Be sure to keep tables six feet apart and practice all the necessary sanitation guidelines. Consider mobile, contactless menus, and make sure to minimize unnecessary contact. Make your patrons feel safe in your expanded outdoor dining area to reduce risk and increase the chances they come back.

Whether outdoor dining is your only option or you’re simply looking for ways to make up for lost capacity inside, these six tips should help you get started.

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