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Best Practices for Patios and Dining Rooms

Cobble Social House in the North Loop, sandwiched between D. Nolo, a clothing store, and Monte Carlo, has a tiny footprint indoors, but the loading dock makes it a fun outdoor destination for drinks and a visit from food trucks.

When prepping your restaurant for COVID-19 guidelines, be careful not to strip out all the charm in your quest to demonstrate compliance. 

“Restaurants that removed tables have to be concerned with the environment they created,” says Len Ghilani, operations partner with the restaurant consulting company, Results Thru Strategies. “Empty space has no energy.” 

The other option is to label every other table with table tents announcing the tables are reserved for social distancing.

Think about the five senses, he suggests, and try to hit on all five, including what diners see, smell, taste, touch and feel. That may mean upbeat or soothing music, depending on your concept; appropriate lighting; and the smell can be delicious food—or cleaning supplies. What they see should be a server smiling with his or her eyes, because the real smile is hidden by a mask—a properly worn mask that covers both the mouth and nose. 

Servers don’t need to stand six-feet away and yell over at guests, if they’re wear a mask, he pointed out. 

The key right now is training and professionalism, he says. Because there are two camps concerning masks and varying comfort levels at returning to dining rooms, prepare staff for every possible situation so that they can easily handle whatever is thrown at them by guests. 

Patio experiences need to be more than just chairs and tables in a parking lot. Tents are a great idea to protect from sun and rain, and much more economical than umbrellas—although umbrellas help create a better environment by breaking up the space and creating zones, says Tanya Spaulding, principal with Shea Design.


Here are some of Spaulding's tips for an inviting patio: 

Use a variety of furniture, including some high tops and low tops and put them in deliberate groupings to accommodate groups from two to six.  Add greenery to create ambiance and a sense of space. For a temporary patio, pots are a great option, but don’t just randomly place a few pots around haphazardly. Create  small zones within the larger space with seating anchored by a few pots and maybe some lighting. Tap into your employees to help create the plantings if you can't afford a professional service.

A small pot on the table with a sad, unwatered flower doesn’t cut it, she says.  “Some places have done a great job with greenery, but they’re not watering them.” 

And one last comment from Ghilani: “The important thing is that you realize that you are part of something bigger than you are. You’re part of an industry and what you do affects everyone else." If everyone follows the state and city mandates, there won’t be cause for the governor to start shutting down restaurants again, such as what’s going on in California and other states that opened too quickly. 

The North Loop’s Smack Shack hits on all
cylinders: A beautifully landscaped patio that’s
inviting and visible cleaning tactics. 

Harriet Brasserie added an artsy touch to its patio
by hanging  large paintings on the brick walls between
buildings. There's also outdoor seating in front.

Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul added clear plexiglass
partitions to its dining room, which protects both the
servers and the guests. It’s not easy to make barriers
attractive, but they’ve managed to do it here while
staying on brand. 

Hope Breakfast Bar and Café Astoria
were able to take advantage of St. Paul’s
willingness to help restaurants extend their
patio dining by blocking off the street and allowing tables and chairs to spill out onto the pavement.


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