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.