Diners have more options than ever for dining outside, rain or shine

There’s no question that COVID-19 accelerated the Capital Region’s enthusiasm for eating outside.

Before the pandemic, a modest number of area restaurants offered al fresco seating, but since then, more have expanded or added patio dining.

Diners have embraced it. If you’ve tried to grab an outdoor table on a balmy weekend night, you’ve probably found one hard to come by.

“People definitely prefer to sit on the patio,” says Angie Crochet, marketing director of The Oasis on Burbank Drive, a restaurant, patio and beach volleyball complex.

As it’s become clearer that outdoor dining is here to stay, many restaurants invested in additional patio seating over the last year.

When SoLou opened in the former Rum House in March, its owners called for the elimination of an existing outdoor bar to make room for more outdoor tables.

BRQ added a covered patio in its backyard earlier this year that doubled the restaurant’s seating capacity.

In May, DiGiulio Bros. Italian Cafe purchased and razed its shuttered next door neighbor, the Thai restaurant Rama, where it will soon build an adjacent covered patio. BRQ added a covered patio in its backyard earlier this year that doubled the restaurant’s seating capacity.

Beausoleil Coastal Cuisine expanded patio seating last fall to complement its refreshed interior.

And when planning the new Bistro Byronz location in the former White Star Market, Byronz Family Restaurant CEO Emelie Alton says planning for a larger number of outdoor tables was a big priority.

“We knew we wanted to expand that offering because it’s become so popular and is so important right now,” Alton says. “We’ll have enough space for outdoor entertainment, too.”

Crochet says The Oasis’s existing 5,000-square-foot patio has given the business a leg up throughout the pandemic.

Some downtown restaurants are adding patio seating, including Rio Tacos & Tequila, which opened this past January. Photo by Ariana Allison

“People have been very comfortable booking private events with us, especially if they’re trying to follow their own restrictions,” Crochet says. “We have huge ceiling fans that make it really pleasant. And in the winter, we’ll have heat lamps.”

While many restaurants have added outdoor seating fairly easily, restaurants in areas like downtown have had a harder time. Most are landlocked and lack parking lots. Cafe-style sidewalk seating must be permitted by the city-parish to ensure it doesn’t disrupt pedestrian flow or run afoul of ADA requirements.

Recognizing how important outdoor dining is for restaurants, the Downtown Development District announced in August a grants program to help downtown eateries add this option, says development project director Ryan Benton.

“People like dining outdoors, and as COVID-19 restrictions have come and gone, having outdoor seating gives restaurants more flexibility,” Benton says.

The DDD program helps restaurants apply for permits, and it awards each grantee up to $1,500 in related expenses, including the purchase of outdoor tables and chairs.

Benton says by early October two restaurants had applied for the grants, and others had made inquiries about doing so.

This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue of 225 magazine.

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