Restaurants & Bars | November 25, 2020 6:30 am

To Comply With COVID Rules, Restaurants Are Creating Increasingly Unsafe Outdoor Dining Structures

"We can't eat inside but we can eat inside as long as the inside is outside."

outdoor dining
Outdoor dining in NYC is starting to look like indoor dining outside
Eduardo MunozAlvarez/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images

Indoor dining was (and is) being blamed for the spread of COVID-19.

This summer several venues were able to move outdoors and — with several other precautions in place — find at least a safer, temporary solution to the economic havoc that the pandemic had unleashed on the hospitality industry.

Unfortunately, with winter weather arriving, those same outdoor establishments are now struggling to entice customers to show up in the cold. And outdoor heaters are becoming hard to find.

One terrible solution, and one this writer has seen quite often, is the outdoor dining space that’s pretty much an indoor space but sans ventilation. It’s usually a tent or, worse, a wooden roofed structure that offers maybe two open sides but more often than not has just a few cut-out window spaces built into the structure.

James Hamblin noticed this troubling trend earlier this week. He’s a preventive medicine M.D. and a staff writer at The Atlantic. In one tweet with a few photos, he noted that “Outdoor dining has gradually escalated into what might reasonably be called a buildings.”

That simple observation gathered over 193,000 likes in two days, suggesting that a lot of people are nervous about these supposedly “safe” outdoor venues.

Twitter user @owenmiller75 summed up the problem nicely.

With other establishments testing out family-sized bubbles and other semi-enclosed solutions, it’s worth noting a few things: 1) Takeout, drive-through and delivery are all easier and safer … and you can eat in the warmth and safety of your home. 2) If you absolutely must go out and sit somewhere, wait for a nicer day, bundle up and go to a place that is practicing social distancing and allowing real airflow in its outdoor seating. But really, see 1).

And yes, a passed bill offering government funding that makes it financially prudent for restaurants to close down for a few weeks would really help. So would guidelines from the city or state. Given those unlikely scenarios, we suggest sticking to your early COVID food routine of delivery/takeout or making your own food.

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