Sidewalk dining Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
It’s no secret that, across the globe, restaurants have been among the businesses most hard-hit by COVID-19. From February 24, 2020, to November 7, 2020, a Statista survey found restaurants reporting a 36.61% decrease in seated diners. Another report estimated that the entire sector could lose $240 billion by the end of the year. 198 restaurants have closed in New York City alone. For an industry that relies upon people being able to sit in close, clean, indoor quarters, COVID-19 has been particularly fatal.
But in Santa Monica, where indoor dining is still not allowed, local initiatives have helped restaurants stay afloat — and then some. City leaders’ approval of al fresco dining has been a major success, due in large part to Santa Monica Travel & Tourism’s creation of the Santa Monica Shines COVID-19 Assurance Program. The program both educates restauranteurs on how to maintain a COVID-19-free environment and awards a Santa Monica Shines Assurance Seal of approval to particularly adherent businesses. Of the 130 businesses which have registered for the program, 29 have been awarded Shines Seals.
Parklets — sidewalk extensions that provide more space and amenities for both pedestrians and people using the street — have also been extremely useful for restaurants. Parklets were first introduced on Main Street well before COVID-19 struck, but have since become an extremely useful resource for restaurants looking for a bit more al fresco dining space. In an address, Economic Development Manager Jennifer Taylor shouted out Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., who was instrumental in identifying the tools and procedures that would make parklets safe for dining.
More than a COVID-19 quick fix, parklets and al fresco dining are here to stay. The Main Street Merchants Association conducted a survey to gauge public approval of the initiatives, asking two questions: “Have parklet and al fresco programs helped Main Street?” and “Should the city keep the new parklets?” To both questions, survey respondents overwhelmingly answered in the affirmative.
With winter fast approaching, outdoor dining will become near-impossible in colder climates. Those who have survived on a mix of reduced indoor capacity and limited outdoor space will likely struggle to persevere in the cold. But Santa Monica’s temperate climate will keep al fresco dining cozy — much to the pleasure of hundreds of local businesses, as well as their patrons.
“Say goodbye to the days of being cramped in a small restaurant, unable to hear your partner from across the table,” a guest author wrote in the Santa Monica Daily Press. “The ability to move the dining experience from indoors to outdoors provides a breath of fresh air…a much-needed break from our at-home routine.”