The mercury’s climbing fast, and restaurants nationwide are opening their patios. When I first began writing about restaurants in Denver about a decade ago, street-level and rooftop patios were becoming must-haves for new restaurants looking to share the city’s plentiful sunshine, not to mention their scenic views if they were lucky enough to have a space that looked out on the mountains.
Adding outdoor dining space has been a national trend in recent years, as eateries see the space as a way to bring in more business and towns often appreciate the new life that patios can bring to their downtown areas. In suburban areas and cities accustomed to open-air dining, opening the outdoor space can be as simple as unfurling a few umbrellas and setting up the tables. In other cities, the sign of spring can come wrapped in a bit of red tape.
The monthly agenda for New York City’s famously strict Community Board 2 typically includes more than one application for outdoor dining permits and renewals. One of the recent rosters included an application from Five Guys Burgers and Fries, looking to add 12 outdoor tables at its main location in Brooklyn, hoping to gain a competitive advantage over nearby rivals including McDonald’s, Smashburger and Shake Shack, The New York Times reported.
The process may take a bit of time, but the city boasts plenty of outdoor eating areas and has seen firsthand the benefits they can bring. “In general, sidewalk cafes enliven the street and increase safety by putting eyes on the street,” said Rob Perris, the board’s district manager. “We’ve recommended disapproval of very few sidewalk cafes over the past decade or so.”
Some smaller towns, such as Martinez, Calif., are catching on to the excitement that outdoor dining spaces can bring. The town of less than 36,700 is the Contra Costa County seat, and a workshop last year aimed at exploring ideas for revitalizing the downtown area resulted in a proposal to allow restaurants, wine bars, ice cream parlors and other foodservice establishments to transform up to two street parking spaces for seasonal outdoor dining, the Contra Costa Times reported. The plan includes the use of platforms that the city would remove during the rainy season.
Restaurants in the borough of Peapack and Gladstone, N.J., aren’t finding officials nearly so accommodating. Last month, officials introduced a proposal that would in effect close down outdoor dining areas at 10 p.m. and prohibit amplified music in outdoor areas, The Bernardsville News reported.
The situation illustrates a problem that many cities have had to tackle as the popularity of outdoor dining venues grows in areas bordering residential neighborhoods — noise. Restaurant owners who spoke against the stricter new rules said they had already taken steps to reduce the impact on neighbors, and lawmakers tabled discussion of the measure.
Beyond the patio
In addition to simple patios that bring the restaurant’s main menu to the great outdoors, some eateries have been expanding their definitions of outdoor dining with beer gardens, scenic rooftop bistros and even farm-to-table menus served on the actual farm, according to Patio Products USA‘s list of top 10 outdoor dining trends.
Does your restaurant have a patio? Did you have to fight for it? Tell us about it in the comments.