On June 1st, restaurants in Minnesota (where I am) are getting ready to reopen, but it won't be much of a celebration with the new rules in place. According to the plans outlined by the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development:
Beginning June 1, restaurants and bars can reopen for outdoor service only as long as they:
Have adopted and implemented a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan
Ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance between tables
Limit on-premises capacity to no more than 50 persons
Limit table service to 4 persons, or 6 if part of one family unit
Require reservations in advance
Require workers to wear masks and strongly encourage masks be worn by customers
Regardless of the protective measures, restaurants and bars know full well that they will not be able to survive in such a suppressed consumer climate, and have called upon the local government for all available support. And with no indoor seating allowed (at least not yet), restaurants Downtown and elsewhere that just don't have access to patio seating, what are they to do? Shut down completely? The answers are unclear and the stress level is at an all-time high. So, what can be done to mitigate this issue? After reading the morning local news about this horrible situation, I began to brainstorm some potentially feasible (crazy) solutions; however, let me just note right now before I go on that I am not a policymaker, I am not a restaurant strategy advisor, I am just a curious individual trying to do whatever I can to help accelerate the reopening process. Oh, and I really miss going to my favorite Wine Bar. And I do realize that some of these solutions will require investment and strategic implementation, but we need to think outside of the box and talk about about new approaches to this dilemma. Our current capacities will not suffice. With that said, let's get to brainstorming.
Potential solution 1: create double-decker patios to maximize restaurant space
This idea came to me when I was trying to figure out the problem of space maximization. This solution only works assuming that restaurants already have a patio, and assuming that they have a small budget outlined our perhaps the government decides to intervene and provide funding. Essentially, restaurants would just build a second layer to their outside patio, and it wouldn't have to be fancy or elaborate by any means. What's more important now is function over form. It can be made out of wood like a simple balcony, so long as it passes all safety requirements and is structurally sound. This way, restaurants will not be in violation of social distancing orders, and can serve double the amount of customers. Again, this will not solve all revenue loss problems, but it could potentially provide some financial padding, and if the local government steps in, we might be seeing double-decker patios more frequently.
Potential solution 2: create "makeshift" patio restaurants as an extension to existing restaurants
Whenever I order food from a restaurant, it gets delivered to my house, so technically I'm still eating at that restaurant, just in another location. So this logic got me thinking, what if restaurants (with the government's help) could find empty land Masses (around the lakes we have or outdoor soccer fields even), and create low cost platforms upon which customers could dine on food that would be delivered to them from that specific restaurant. This solves the problem for restaurants who don't have patios, and helps to maximize sales for those who already do provide outdoor seating. Now I know what you're thinking, the government will never allow sports fields to have makeshift patio restaurants on them! Um... think again, this part of our economy is important, and we need that cash flow from consumers. Moreover, we aren't even having any sports games right now! We are sitting at home with empty basketball fields and football stadiums, and we can easily utilize these massive empty spaces to help this important industry in need. Think about it.
Potential solution 3: patio "exchange" agreements between restaurants
Coronavirus means coopetition is key. Coopetition is when competing firms decide to collaborate based on the premise of mutual benefit. Let's say there are two restaurants right next to each other, and both have patios. There is a potential that both restaurants could benefit and make even more money if one restaurant agreed to shut down for one day, and enable the competing restaurant to absorb its patio for the day, thus doubling customer occupancy. In the meanwhile, the "off day" restaurant could work on optimizing their menu for faster food service at lower costs. Which leads me into my next solution.
Potential solution 4: implementing 30 minute limits on seating time
Gone are the days when you could spend 1 hour and a half at your favorite restaurant schmoozing with your friends. If restaurants want to maximize the patio space that they have for profit gain, there should be time constraints on how long guests can dine. This way, restaurants can pump in and out more customers, and help raise revenues. This will also required optimizing menus to allow for faster food services, as mentioned in the third solution.
Are these the most optimal solutions out there? Have I solved the problem? Is this even possible? I don't know, to be quite honest. Some of you may be highly critical of my proposed solutions, which I welcome, truly! Please, be critical, find flaws and vulnerabilities in these explanations––the only way that we can implement solutions is by strategizing and figuring out what could possible work, and what is out of the question. I hope that this article provides some spark of conversation for ameliorating the restaurant strain problem. We need to innovate and think outside of the box if we are ever to come back to a new normal again.