Outdoor dining demand has been driven up by Delta variant

New data from the U.S. National Restaurant Association has shown how the delta COVID-19 variant drove up the demand for outdoor dining.

In a September 2021 survey fielded by the Association, 78 per cent of operators said their restaurant experienced a decline in customer demand for indoor on-premises dining in recent weeks, as a result of the increase in coronavirus cases due to the delta variant.

Over the same period, 61 per cent of operators who offer outdoor dining said their restaurant experienced an increase in demand for outdoor seating.

This was more likely to occur in the full-service segment, with 71 per cent of operators that offer outdoor dining saying the delta variant led to an increase in customer demand for outdoor seating in recent weeks. Fifty-one percent of limited-service operators that offer outdoor dining reported similarly.

A crucial lifeline

The ability to offer outdoor dining through the summer and fall has been a huge lifeline for restaurants.

65 per cent of operators surveyed in September 2021 offered on-premises outdoor dining in a space such as a patio, deck, or sidewalk, up from 57 per cent in April and roughly on par with the 67 per cent who reported similarly in September 2020.

Seventy-two percent of full-service operators say their restaurant offered on-premises outdoor dining in September, while 57 per cent of limited-service operators offered on-premises outdoor seating in September.

The report concluded that outdoor dining represents a significant proportion of business for restaurants that offer it. Overall, 35 per cent of operators that offer outdoor seating say it accounts for more than 40 per cent of their average daily sales, and 15 per cent of operators say it represents more than 70 per cent of their daily sales.

Outdoor dining is even more important to the full-service segment. Forty-one percent of full-service operators that offer outdoor seating say it accounts for more than 40 per cent of their average daily sales, and 16 per cent of full-service operators say it represents more than 70 per cent of their daily sales.

When it comes to limited-service, 29 per cent of operators that offer outdoor seating say it accounts for more than 40 per cent of their average daily sales, while 13 per cent say it represents more than 70 per cent.

Winter is coming

Now, the reality is that the outdoor dining season is winding down for a majority of restaurants.

In the Association’s survey, 54 per cent of operators said their restaurant would only be able to continue offering outdoor seating for one or two more months based on traditional weather patterns in their area. Only 36 per cent of operators said they plan to continue offering outdoor seating throughout the upcoming fall and winter.

Outdoor seating in the limited-service segment is more likely to be available for the entire year. Forty-two percent of limited-service operators said they plan to continue offering outdoor seating throughout the upcoming fall and winter, while only 30 per cent of full-service operators reported similarly.