Workers build up a outdoor area outside a restaurant in New York

Dear Restaurants: If It Has Four Walls & a Roof, It’s No Longer Outdoor Dining

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I don’t envy anyone who works in the restaurant industry right now. From the owners and managers trying to keep businesses afloat to the kitchen and front-of-house employees forced to interact with an over-demanding, under-tipping public in the midst of a pandemic, restaurants are having a hard time and people doing everything they can to survive.

So I understand trying to come up with creative solutions, but there’s a big difference between creativity and trying to work around public safety mandates with loopholes that put people in very real danger.

One such loophole is this apparent trend, where restaurants are expanding their outdoor dining to make it more winter-friendly. Yet after you erect full structures involving four walls and a roof, I don’t think it should really qualify as “outdoors” anymore.

 

In lieu of any federal guidance, we have a mess of guidelines that vary by state and city, and most areas do have some sort of regulation on indoor and outdoor dining in terms of limiting capacity and maintaining distance between tables. In some areas, the regulations on indoor dining are stricter than outdoor seating. There are also a lot of people who don’t feel safe sitting down inside of a restaurant right now but will take their chances with outdoor dining.

So with winter approaching, losing outdoor seating would be a major blow to a lot of these restaurants. But putting walls and a roof or tent around your outdoor seating doesn’t preserve it—it just turns it into indoor seating, complete with all the risks that come with it.

It should go without saying but all of this also applies to at-home situations as well. Maybe you’ve had a few small backyard gatherings and you’re wondering what you’ll do when winter hits. I’m wondering the same thing myself but I know the answer is not “invite friends over to sit maskless inside an unventilated bubble.”

Every single thing about that picture makes it clear that trying to capture the *illusion* of safety can be far more dangerous than anything else.

(image: KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.