Over a year in outdoor dining, what have we learned?


Rule of Thirds Winter Village in Brooklyn.

Photo courtesy of Rule of Thirds

Comfortable, creative structures with radiators and lush plants are nice on a small scale, but they also reflect and shape something bigger in the works. Namely, a broader redefinition of the public domain that aligns with cities that adapt to post-pandemic conditions.

In an outdoor dining trellis conceptualized by Design Advocates, patrons are surrounded by foliage.

Photo: Alan Tansey

“I don’t want to ignore the challenges of the past two years by any means, but what happened on the streets in New York was miraculous,” says architect Michael K. Chen of MKCA and co-founder of the association Design advocates. With a focus on equity and access, Design Advocates’ work includes providing pro bono design services to restaurateurs in historically underserved communities, providing resources to interpret ordering guidelines from urgency and participation in drafting the evolution of New York City Open restaurants program vision.

Across the country, similar miracles took shape. Charles Hemminger, an architect who served as a hotel design advisor and liaison to San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s Economic Recovery Task Force, observes that the outdoor restaurant clusters “have succeeded in giving the image people have of a coffee culture that had never taken root in the city before. “Hemminger consulted his client The Morris on expanding its outdoor space so that the latticework, well-lit and heated outdoor experience “truly turns into a room”. The survival of this restaurant is a relative success in a city where some of the best formulated intentions have collided with the realities of an economic sector on the brink of collapse.

In regions with a year-round outdoor climate, COVID-19 has finally accelerated the obvious concept of eating out in a quality environment. Some restaurants make significant investments where weather protection is not really a concern. Young and beautiful in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, expanded its patio designed by Bells & Whistles with a permanent infrastructure and enchanting elements like mature olive trees and a period Malm fireplace. Large White is revamping its outdoor seating in Venice after meeting success with the adorned parklet at Cali-Australian restaurant’s new location in the Larchmont village of Los Angeles.

Jeune and Jolie’s patio in Carlsbad, California.

Photo: Devin Castaneda

As cities across the country effect this change in culinary culture, public agencies are rewriting the rules in response. San Francisco and Los Angeles city councils, for example, have voted to extend ordinances before longer-term plans are implemented.

And yet, not everyone is a fan. City agencies are responsible for governing non-conforming structures and unsafe conditions. Public resistance has taken the form of parking complaints, routine noise complaints and even a recent trial.

Michael K. Chen notes how New York City in particular finds itself in a “messy” time of transition between the 2020 Emergency Orders and the Open Restaurant program’s goal of implementing a revised regulatory framework more clear and smoother by 2023. This period presents an incredible opportunity for designers to roll up their sleeves, get involved in the public process and get creative. “Everything in the city is a prototype. We’re literally re-imagining what can happen in real time, ”Chen says. “It’s really exciting.”

A bench and a cocktail table at Jeune et Jolie give the outdoor atmosphere a glamorous touch.

Photo: Devin Castaneda

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