Drivers are surprisingly chill about restaurant patios taking up parking spaces

An example of outdoor dining space within a converted parking lot, Half Moon Bay, California (August 2020)
An example of outdoor dining space within a converted parking lot, Half Moon Bay, California (August 2020)
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado (Getty Images)

As restaurants have transitioned to outdoor service in response to COVID-19, one of the biggest logistical challenges has been setting up patio dining space. While this may not be such a big deal in towns or cities with wide sidewalks or lower density, in larger cities it’s been a significant adjustment, with restaurateurs securing as much sidewalk space as they can and expanding into street parking spaces. But, amazingly enough, drivers seem to be pretty chill about the decreased number of parking spaces.


As reported by NPR, in Philadelphia, a city where street parking is already at a premium at the best of times, more than 400 restaurants are participating in a city program that allows them to use parking spaces as patio extensions, and the expected onslaught of complaints hasn’t yet materialized. As written by NPR:

“Just ask Randy Rucker, the chef and owner of River Twice on East Passyunk Ave. The restaurant placed tables in the street where as many as four cars used to squeeze in, in a neighborhood where every parking spot is prized.

Rucker was ready to deal with the backlash. But to his surprise, there was none.

“No one’s knocking on my door cussing at me,” Rucker said. “It’s been a positive experience so far, believe it or not.”

There may be a few reasons behind the lack of complaints. For starters, “according to mapping company TomTom, Philadelphia’s streets are about half as congested as they were pre-pandemic.” But also, encouragingly, it’s being theorized that drivers realize this outdoor patio space is an existential need for restaurants, which is helping to temper whatever frustration they might feel as they search in vain for parking.

While NPR’s story only examines Philadelphia, it’s worth noting that the need for outdoor seating is even more extreme in more densely populated cities like New York. According to the NYC “Open Restaurants” database, there are over 10,000 restaurants currently in operation, but only around 5,400 are making use of either street seating, sidewalk seating, or a combination of the two. Given that outdoor seating is a factor that can make or break a restaurant’s ability to stay open, it’s safe to say that we can expect outdoor seating numbers to expand in the coming months, taking away additional parking spaces during a time when the comforts of a warm, dry, socially distanced car might seem particularly compelling. Hopefully as the months wear on drivers will remain calm, and restaurants will be able to eke out as much space as they can.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)


The 'Burbs

In my town (suburbs north of NYC), they closed the main street to traffic to allows the restaurants and stores if they desire to expand their outdoor capacity. Granted its about two lane street with parallel parking on each lane and about 3 blocks long, so its not a big closure; but every person in the town loves the new pedestrian plaza and are fighting to keep it open longer into the fall and make it a recurring thing. 

The only one fighting it is one store owner who thinks the loss of parking is impacting their business (designer clothing). There can’t be more than 20 spots lost and pre-COVID is it was damn near impossible to find (free) parking on the main street. There are plenty of spots in town lots 1/2 block away but require payment. This one business owner and others that just blindly follow the loudest person might cause this whole thing to shut down which will decimate the local restaurants and have zero impact of the store.... I just don’t get it