As the hospitality industry finally has a date to pin its hopes on, (April 12th) we thought we’d take a look at one of the few (only?) bright spots that the COVID pandemic has brought to the industry – alfresco dining.
Eating outside has been a hit – and it will provide a new channel of income for restaurateurs once the pandemic is finally behind us. Those businesses that have survived the turmoil’s of the last twelve months might see a glimmer of hope in a full recovery if they continue to be allowed the freedom of fewer restrictions to establishing outdoor serving spaces that they were allowed last year.
In July last year the government revised the application process for pavement licenses, allowing hospitality businesses to utilise any outdoor space they had available. The streamlined process capped the cost of application at £100 and the consultation period (the time it takes a council to decide to grant a license) to five days, from the previous period of 28 calendar days. This approach was a godsend for some business who were able to take advantage of the great summer weather last year and try and claw back some of the losses they incurred since the first lockdown in March 2020.
Just about every town and city allowed restaurants to create seating on the pavements and streets in front of their establishments, with some cities and organisations even providing funding to help them with the transition. Many restaurants jumped at the opportunity and spent thousands of pounds erecting makeshift eateries, yurts and pods, complete with ductwork, electrical wiring, space heaters, private TV sets, sliding doors and comfy furniture, all to navigate around their cities’ Covid restrictions. And although some set-ups didn’t always appear to be any safer than an indoor dining room, their local councils let them. And their customers seem to love it.
As thoughts now turn to that huge date in the hospitality diary, 12th April, when restaurants and pubs will be able to serve customers in an outside area, and businesses hope to make up for the lost opportunities of Christmas and Valentine’s day, many will be hoping that the new process is here to stay, hopefully forever.
We only have to turn to our cousins across the ocean to see an approach that seeks to help, rather than hinder, the beleaguered hospitality industry.
New York City was one of the first cities in America to make outdoor dining permanent. “It was a big, bold experiment in supporting a vital industry and reimagining our public space – and it worked,” the city’s mayor told the New York Times. “As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”
Of course, outdoor dining isn’t new. But the trend is just one of those existing things – like work from home, e-commerce and virtual meetings – that was accelerated because of the pandemic, and it will surely provide a new channel of income for restaurateurs once the pandemic is behind us and the economy recovers. It’s also an opportunity for many cities to reinvent themselves and a chance for the UK to adopt a more relaxed, continental approach to socialising outdoors. Many towns and cities are embracing this new approach like never before with city planners, urban designers and architecture firms scrambling to come up with innovative designs for outdoor spaces.