How To Make Restaurant Parking Lot Seating Safer

restaurant outdoor seating restaurant parking lot

The American Tradition Of Dining Out

Eating out has become a staple of the modern American lifestyle. Whether going to the local diner for breakfast with the family after church on Sunday or heading to your favorite wing shop for the Big Game, Americans love coming together at restaurants to celebrate and entertain each other. However, this trend took a sharp turn in Mid-March 2020 when COVID-19 lead state and local officials to shut down all on-site dining at restaurants and bars. Restaurants that relied on dine-in customers saw an immediate 65% drop in their typical income, and this trend continued as the United States remained in strict quarantine.
restaurant parking lot safety outdoor eating stats
Image Source: https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/3/16/21181556/coronavirus-chart-restaurant-business-local
Restaurant owners around the country had to make hard decisions to cut worker hours, temporarily close their restaurants, or even close for good due to economic fallout seen from COVID-19. However, as states and cities around the U.S. begin to open back up, local policymakers are allowing restaurants to open at limited capacity. Many restaurants are adapting to new regulations and social norms by transitioning from indoor seating to outdoor seating options for patrons to allow for social distancing and help increase the number of tables that can be served at one time. We want to help restaurant owners and small businesses overcome the difficulties of this time, so let’s take a look at some tips that restaurant owners can use when setting up additional outdoor seating in their restaurant parking lots.

Restaurants Innovating To Minimize Lost Revenue

Restaurant owners around the U.S. are still reeling from the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on their business. Even as most cities begin to reopen, restaurants and bars are required to limit indoor seating to 25% of the overall indoor seating capacity.
outdoor seating restaurant parking lot risk management
Image Source: https://www.theherald-news.com/2020/05/29/outdoor-dining-starts-to-bring-people-out/ahkbrf4/
This raising some severe issues for restaurants that rely on dine-in customers. Some restaurants have turned to take-out and curbside pickup, but the truth is that most restaurants rely on patrons who sit down and order from a traditional menu. Instead of stifling economic growth and condemning restaurants to close permanently, some cities throughout the U.S. are allowing local restaurants and retail establishments to expand their service area to sidewalks, individual streets, and their parking lots.

Setting Up Outdoor Seating In Restaurant Parking Lots

As more diners set up seating in their restaurant parking lot, restaurant owners need to think about how they will keep the safety of drivers and patrons in the new shared space. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, restaurant owners have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy space for workers and their customers. Many cities from Cincinnati to Atlanta are seeing more outdoor seating at restaurants set up under giant white tents in restaurant parking lots. The more an individual interacts with others, the higher the chances that COVID-19 will spread with the local population. The CDC recommends that restaurants try to keep all food delivery to carry-out or curbside pickup. While this may seem straightforward, it becomes more difficult as restaurant owners restructure their parking lots to accommodate outdoor dining options. Here are a few tips that restaurant owners should follow when offering outside seating options in their restaurant parking lots.

1. Establish A Clear Traffic Flow

In the past, your restaurant parking lot was strictly for patrons to park their cars before they visited your restaurant. However, as you look to set up tents, chairs, and tables in the parking lot, you will need to take extra care to ensure traffic has a clear flow and direction.
restaurant dining parking lot
Image Source: https://www.wvxu.org/post/outdoor-dining-bars-open-weekend-heres-what-you-need-know#stream/0
New and returning customers may become disoriented and confused if they visit your restaurant for the first time in a while. In addition to clear markings, you can also limit speeding by placing speed bumps at the entrance of the parking lot and along the desired path for cars. It would be best if you placed signage and directional arrows around the parking lot entrance and throughout the restaurant parking lot to direct drivers towards the designated parking areas. Use highly visible striping, traffic cones, and parking signs to signify traffic patterns and handicap spots. You can also use cone lights to improve visibility at night if you continue to seat diners in your restaurant parking lot at night.

2. Set Up Adequate Lighting Throughout The Parking Lot

Poor lighting can lead to injuries as drivers travel through your restaurant parking lot at night near diners. You can reduce the chances of an accident by placing exterior lights around the dining area.
restaurant parking lot dining tips parking lot lighting restaurants
Image Source: https://slate.com/business/2020/04/restaurants-reopen-outside-coronavirus.html
You can also direct traffic at night with well-placed lights on top of traffic cones or other signs to direct drivers to dedicated parking areas. Along with placing lights in the parking lot, you should also add regular checks throughout the night to ensure the lights are set and working correctly. Replacing burned-out or broken light bulbs is an essential part of your restaurant risk management as you introduce diners to the new outdoor seating areas.

3. Clearly Mark Pedestrian Crosswalks

It may seem redundant, but you will need to clearly mark where diners should cross from the parking lot to your outdoor seating area. Typically, patrons will leave from a single door, and a dedicated crosswalk area as traffic enters the parking lot. You can place crosswalk signs near crosswalks to direct pedestrians and drivers with caution around the immediate area. This orderly manner is necessary to ensure your restaurant parking lot is safe, but with the introduction of outdoor seating, you will need to take extra caution to ensure pedestrians do not walk through traffic lanes.

Seating Moves Outdoors As Restaurants Reopen

As Federal, State, and local officials set regulations to address the growing coronavirus pandemic, restaurant owners are looking for new and innovative ways to keep their businesses open. One way restaurants are serving patrons is by moving seats and tables to the restaurant parking lot. Whether you are looking for a great bite to eat or you own a restaurant, be sure to keep your eyes open while you enjoy your time out. As more dining tables are set up in restaurant parking lots, there will be more opportunities for accidents throughout the day. Restaurant owners can use the tips listed above to help with their restaurant risk management and to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all diners while enjoying a great meal!
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Author: Chris Giarratana

Chris is a Digital Media Strategy and AdWords management consultant in Orlando, FL. He develops marketing strategies for small businesses, researches emerging technologies, and enjoys studying transportation issues.

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