Some Bars Have Used the Pandemic to Change Business Models

(Courtesy of District)
(Courtesy of District)

When we look back on 2020, most memories will be less than positive. But for some restaurant owners and their guests, summer 2020 may recall good memories of afternoons and evenings spent al fresco dining.

As states move through the various stages of reopening and restaurants provide eat-in service at limited capacity, successful restaurants are embracing outdoor dining to expand their seating and help guests feel more comfortable.

“We’re being very safety conscious, understanding that people may not be 100% comfortable [dining out],” says Nick Luisi, owner of Roslyn Social, a restaurant on the main street in the Long Island, New York, town known for its upscale eateries and energetic nightlife. “If people would prefer to stay outside, we have multiple spaces for them.”

Those restaurant owners who go the extra mile to spruce up their outdoor spaces may find they’ve turned the proverbial lemons into lemonade and attracted a new base to sustain their business even if we face pandemic fallout for some time.

Meeting Minimum Safety Requirements for Reopening

The FDA provides parameters for reopening indoor and outdoor dining areas for restaurants nationwide. Along with standard safety measures that would be required for restaurants at any time, the FDA introduced COVID-specific measures, too.

(Courtsey Roslyn Social)

This most important guideline is that restaurants must follow social distancing requirements, such as seating no more than 10 people per party to a table.

The guidelines also include social distancing signage, cleaning, sanitizing or disinfecting services, and taking appropriate safety measures with single-serve utensils or sanitized flatware.

States have also established their own guidelines, though these are changing as time goes on and the number of COVID-19 cases fluctuate. For instance, as of July in New York, restaurants may also fill to 50% capacity indoors, not counting staff and not including guests in outside dining areas.

To make his customers feel safer, Luisi allows no more than six people to a table. “I’d rather allow six per table than squeeze people together at a table for 12,” he says. “Once you start adding larger tables, it makes things feel closer. I’d rather have guests feel comfortable coming here.”

Pivoting to Meet Customers’ Needs

As a new restaurant that celebrated its one-year anniversary on July 15, Roslyn Social could have crumbled under the pressure of the pandemic. Instead, Luisi successfully pivoted his business model from sports bar to fine dining. Luisi also added tables on the sidewalk for guests to relax with a beverage or grab lunch.

“Before we shut down on March 16, we were predominantly a sports-focused bar with fried foods and draft beers. That was the crowd we catered to,” he explains. “Now we’re more food-focused. We worked to create a better menu. Roslyn’s a great area for dinner, so I wanted to hit the dinner crowd with the addition of an excellent menu and a new chef.”

The rooftop dining area, which was a hit last summer, adds extra capacity to attract guests. The addition of a service bar on the second floor expedites drink service to the rooftop, and the placement of tables to meet social distancing requirements creates a spacious feel that exudes luxury.

Luisi also added a lounge area with low tables and couches for rooftop guests to enjoy drinks. A sun shade helps keep the rooftop cool and attracts eyes from the street. It doesn’t block torrential downpours, however, so the rooftop area has to close when it rains.

Transforming Patio Space Ensures Delicious Summer Fun

District, a sports bar and restaurant in Staten Island, New York, also took the pandemic as an opportunity to pivot its business model. Formerly known as “Play Sports Bar,” the restaurant had a solid 10-year reputation in the area. Owner Joseph Gualtieri upgraded the sound and video systems across the venue and also turned the backyard patio into a summer sports bar haven.

(Courtesy of District)

With a long history in the New York City suburb, Gualtieri said he wasn’t concerned about having to shut down permanently but wanted to maximize the space while keeping customers safe once restaurants received the go-ahead to reopen.

The chief considerations for the patio involved creating the same quality technology experience outside as inside, so that DJs could perform on the patio and guests could catch their favorite games on the screens.

Gualtieri was able to reduce budget costs for a projection system by only using it at night. He didn’t have to spring for a top-of-the-line, high-lumens laser projector or ambient light-rejecting screen, which would be necessary for playing videos during the day. Similarly, the audiovisual team placed the LED TVs in shaded areas for better visibility.

With businesses adjacent to the sports bar, Gualtieri wanted to be considerate of his neighbors, so he focused on sound containment by adding 14-foot fences around the space, along with vestibules that enclosed the sound while expanding the usable waiting area. Full-range speakers provide crystal clear sound without the throbbing bass of separate subwoofers that could disturb nearby establishments.

Finally, Gualtieri added games like bocce ball and cornhole to the patio to complement live entertainment and nightlife.

Looking Forward

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