Expanded Outdoor Dining Critically Needed for Restaurant Industry to Sustain the Winter

oday the National Restaurant Association sent a letter to the U.S. Conference of Mayors warning that thousands of restaurants could close without support to extend outdoor dining. 

The letter warns that despite a few weeks of optimism earlier this summer, the outlook for the restaurant industry remains dire. The delta variant caused a majority of consumers to change their restaurant use, including 20% who have chosen to sit outside instead of inside. Additionally, while numerous operators benefited from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), it quickly ran out of money, and approximately two thirds of applicants did not receive any funding. Congress has yet to replenish the Fund leaving a $43.6 billion funding gap and 177,000 restaurants in danger of closing.

While outdoor dining has provided a lifeline for restaurants this summer, National Restaurant Association research indicates that the continuing impact of the delta variant, the lack of RRF replenishment, and the changing weather are creating a recipe for a bleak winter. The research also found:

• In recent weeks, the delta variant slowed indoor dining at 78% of restaurants.

• At 68% of fullservice restaurants, outdoor dining is 20% or more of their daily sales.

• 61% of fullservice restaurants can only use their outdoor space through October. 

• Only 30% of fullservice restaurants plan to utilize outdoor seating the entire winter.

“Restaurants currently rely on outdoor dining to stay open, but the dark chill of winter is coming,” said Mike Whatley, vice president for State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy. “For operators depending on this revenue, every additional day they can extend their outdoor service matters. Last year, despite supply chain issues, many restaurants were able to invest in equipment to expand and winterize their outdoor dining areas. But many restaurants weren’t able to make those investments.”

The letter encourages local leaders to do everything in their power to assist restaurants in offering outdoor dining for as long as possible this winter. Specifically, it suggests extending expanded outdoor dining allowances, continuing to streamline permitting processes, promoting outdoor dining efforts by operators in their localities, and providing funding for outdoor dining infrastructure as some localities did last year.

Whatley concluded, “Expanded outdoor dining cannot replace robust consumer demand for indoor dining or Congress taking action to replenish the RRF, yet it is critically needed to help the industry sustain the winter.”

Read the full letter and find additional statistics from the Association research on outdoor dining here.