Councils must relook outdoor dining policies to sustain F&B industry in age of Covid-19

Mid last year, cities all around the United States closed streets to make way for al fresco dining.

It was not that outdoor dining was a new thing in that part of the globe.

But with the pandemic changing the way we lived and dined, more eateries had jumped on the bandwagon to create dining spaces on sidewalks and streets in front of their establishments.

Some cities had even provided funding to help eateries with the transformation, hoping to give a much-needed boost to the many restaurants, bistros, bakeries, and cafes that had suffered due to Covid-19.

But it did not just stop there.

Restaurateurs were also able to set up tables outdoors – in parking lots, alleyways, parks, and plazas, while adhering to physical distancing rules.

Fast-forward to today, many city councils across the US are mulling whether to make outdoor dining spaces a permanent fixture.

In Malaysia, outdoor dining is a common sight.

The practice of illegally occupying sidewalks and road spaces had, over the years however, lead to many accidents, injuries, and even deaths.

Fights have also erupted between disgruntled motorists and shop owners who set up tables on parking lots outside their restaurants.

This led to stricter regulations and enforcement by local councils nationwide, including the introduction of permits and rental for tables placed on sidewalks.

Although eating at restaurants is now allowed, people are still hesitant to dine in.

Many tend to only frequent restaurants that were ‘empty’ or located at corner lots, which were airy, and where patrons could dine outdoors.

While some eateries allowed only take-outs, others say their businesses are not doing great despite people dining in.

“The volume is just not there. Sometimes, we only get about 20 customers a day,” said a restaurant owner in Section 19, Petaling Jaya.

“I believe people are shying away because my restaurant is in an intermediate lot and our premises is not very big. The ventilation is not as good as other corner lot restaurants.”

The 50-year-old, who declined to be named, added he was only able to place three tables outside.

In announcing the relaxation of dining-in rules last month, and in his last few days as prime minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had called on eatery owners to provide for more outdoor dining to ensure proper ventilation.

In an era where being outdoors is safer than being indoors, local councils nationwide should relook at existing policies to ensure that eateries that cater only to indoor dining, can survive.

Several years ago, the roads around Taiping’s Central Market, better known as Siang-Malam, were closed for several hours at night to allow traders to set up tables and chairs in a safe and secure environment.

This was way before the pandemic hit. The same can be done again, in other cities and municipalities, nationwide.

It is time for local governments to introduce new dining policies to enable the public to dine outdoors in a safe and conducive environment, while ensuring the survival of the nation’s food and beverage industry.

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