• With the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19, restaurants face a hard winter if cities don’t extend outdoor dining, the National Restaurant Association reports.
  • According to Association research, the delta variant slowed indoor dining at 78 percent of restaurants in recent weeks.

Related: How to improve your pizzeria’s outdoor dining experience during the pandemic

Pivoting to outdoor dining kept many restaurants in business last year as the COVID-19 virus spread across the country and indoor dining was shut down for months. Today 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 percent who prefer to dine outside instead of inside.

Additionally, the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) quickly ran out of money, the Association notes, and about 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 percent of restaurants.
  • At 68 percent of fullservice restaurants, outdoor dining accounts for 20 percent or more of their daily sales.
  • 61 percent of fullservice restaurants can only use their outdoor space through October.
  • Only 30 percent of fullservice restaurants plan to utilize outdoor seating the entire winter.

Related: Design your next restaurant for efficiency and guest experience

“Restaurants currently rely on outdoor dining to stay open, but the dark chill of winter is coming,” said Mike Whatley, the Association’s 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
  • Providing funding for outdoor dining infrastructure as some localities did last year.

“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,” Whatley added.

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


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