outdoor dining

18,000 US restaurants added outdoor dining since start of pandemic

Outdoor dining has been a lifesaver for many restaurants throughout the turmoil and the pain of the last two years of pandemic, and new data from Yelp suggests that around 18,000 businesses in the U.S. have newly listed outdoor dining as an attribute since the pandemic began.

The total number of establishments listing outdoor dining on the website is now around 26,000, compared to fewer than 8,000 in February 2020.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those 18,000 businesses didn’t have outdoor dining before. Some may have offered it, but not realized the value of transparently advertising that feature until dining rooms began to close for the first time in spring 2020.

Certainly, diner demand for outdoor seating has skyrocketed. Consumer searches on Yelp for businesses offering outdoor dining increased 292 per cent in year two of the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic searches. That came as nearly 90 per cent of U.S. restaurants experienced a decline in customer demand for indoor dining because of the omicron variant, according to the National Restaurant Association.

That consumer demand is also holding steady. Three in four adults say they would feel safer sitting at an outside table versus an inside table at a restaurant if given the option, according to the NRA’s 2022 State of the Industry report. Meanwhile, OpenTable data finds that 82 per cent of diners want restaurants to continue to increase outdoor seating.

In Canada, too, the demand has been high, and temporary patio programs such as Toronto’s CaféTO have been expanded and extended. That is not expected to drop off even as indoor dining reopens at full capacity and mask mandates are dropped. Warmer weather, a hopefully sustained reopening, and increases consumer confidence should create conditions for a bumper spring and summer of outdoor dining.

RELATED: Building for success with your restaurant patio