- About 18,000 businesses have listed outdoor dining as an attribute on Yelp since the pandemic began, new Yelp data shows, with the total establishments listing outdoor dining nearing 26,000. Comparatively, in February 2020, fewer than 8,000 businesses listed on Yelp included outdoor seating.
- Consumer searches for businesses offering outdoor dining increased 292% in year two of the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic searches.
- Outdoor dining’s popularity has grown as some consumers remain wary of dining indoors. Nearly 90% of restaurants experienced a decline in customer demand for indoor dining because of the omicron variant, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Outdoor dining has provided a lifeline for many restaurants as COVID-19 case rates have shifted throughout the past two years. Several markets — including Rhode Island; Pittsburgh; Normal, Illinois; Irvine, California; Raleigh, North Carolina and more — are passing bills or considering bills to extend outdoor dining for the near term.
A recent NYC Hospitality Alliance survey found 91% of the city’s restaurants believe permanent outdoor dining is “very important” to the future of their business. Additionally, 92% of NYC restaurants believe permanent outdoor dining would allow their businesses to hire more staff.
Consumer demand for outdoor dining 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. OpenTable data finds that 82% of diners want restaurants to continue to increase outdoor seating.
Extended outdoor dining can be complex for operators. Additional dining space could further pressure staff amid a historic labor crisis. Weather fluctuations also require weather-proofed tables, heaters or igloo tents, which can be costly. Permits are also required, and disparate regulations for outdoor dining across markets could be an obstacle for restaurants with more than one location.
Diner demand for outdoor dining could also wane, undermining restaurant investments in attractive al fresco accommodations. Major cities are beginning to drop mask and vaccination mandates for dining in, which could make consumers feel more comfortable with indoor dining. But NRA research shows most operators expect outdoor dining to become more common this year across all segments.