Safety and inclusivity for customers and waitstaff paramount as small businesses turn to outdoor dining during coronavirus pandemic
Everyone recognizes this pandemic has been a challenge. However, not everyone recognizes just how much of a challenge it truly has been for small business owners. As communities are allowed to reopen, the business community and municipalities are seeking to provide opportunities for increased revenue for food and beverage small businesses. Part of this is a return to outdoor seating as we enter the summer months. It is not as simple as just throwing tables outside and hoping people come. Moreover, for the small businesses, having equal ability to take advantage of the added revenue stream fairly with the rest of the business community is crucial. There are business risks also to consider. Customer experience remains important. The reputation of these businesses is vital for future success and for the municipality’s vibrancy. The goal is to maximize the potential until states can fully reopen and life can return to where we were before.
Whereas many long for the ability to get back together, not everyone will want to return to public dining. Caution, for some, is highly valued. We cannot rightfully expect everyone to share the same ideas or fears on how to be in public. For some, there are still health concerns that put them at risk. Being high-risk in an environment where people would be unmasked to eat might not seem wise to many. Any solutions for reopening the business communities in the near future must take into account those who will want to continue to minimize their own risks. For others, who are open to the idea of returning to a more public life, there are still potential risks that should be allayed. Not to be lost in the discussion are the servers and waitstaff. They have a unique challenge of being productive in this new model. What is safe for them?
Municipalities have a few choices moving forward. Is it wisest to close the streets to vehicle traffic? Or is it better to keep traffic flow open and take over parking? Every community will make its choices with feedback from the business community, the emergency responders, and community leadership. But in the effort to be fair and inclusive, there are ideas to consider. Many of these small businesses have just experienced one of the most difficult economic periods in history. For many, there are not discretionary funds to purchase new outdoor dining furniture. To increase outdoor dining, most will have to use their interior furniture. The challenge is not necessarily their furniture but where they are locating it.
Getting proper spacing is the easy issue. The tougher issue might be cross slope. To put furniture in the roadway and in parking spaces means furniture will be put into environments where the cross slopes might be greater than the ADA code will allow. It might be easy to prop up the tables, but what about the chairs? For able individuals, this might not be a big concern, but for those with limited mobilities, this could be a problem. This becomes a new risk for the small business owner. The concern is magnified if the pavement is wet. A similar concern is for the servers and waitstaff. They will be traversing the level changes at the curb and all of the surface changes all while carrying food and drinks. Often, these level changes grow beyond a simple step to be much greater. According to OSHA, business owners are required to provide a safe and healthful workplace to keep their workplace free from serious hazards. The last thing the small business owner needs is extra risk at a time when they are already experiencing financial hardship.
It is important for patrons and waitstaff alike to have safe environments. Restaurant servers and waitstaff safety should be paramount when looking at any in-street dining solutions. Patron and staff accessibility and legalities related to fair access and safety should be maintained to protect small business owners and allay risk (ADA and OSHA). One solution to the surface concerns is a parklet.
A decked parklet solution creates accessible outdoor seating areas for patrons with limited mobility with proper cross slopes per ADA. Parklets also create easier access for servers and waitstaff to not navigates eight- to ten-inch curbs and potentially wet pavement, thus reducing potential OSHA issues. These clearly defined spaces can take parking spaces and, in combination with roadway barriers, can provide safety and security for the outdoor dining experience. This combination will allow for other parking spaces to remain open for delivery and customer pickup. It clearly defines traffic patterns that allow for continued emergency access. For restaurants along main streets, parklets and roadway barriers are important to protect the seating where the adjacent traffic can be at higher speeds. In this time when outdoor dining, customer pickup, and delivery are so critical to the success of small businesses, parklets become essential as a best practice that provide safety and inclusivity.
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