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5 Ways to Extend Dining into Public Spaces

On March 17, 2020 Governor Tim Walz asked Minnesota's restaurants and bars to close their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19. On June 1, 2020, they could open them again - but only for outdoor dining. The City of Rochester issued an Executive Order to help restaurants and bars extend outdoor seating in ways many of them had never tried. 

As our hospitality community adapts their operations to the many curveballs 2020 is throwing, we offer the following examples of how communities across the country (and right here in Rochester) creatively approach outdoor dining - both prior to and in response to COVID-19.

Parklet style patio extensions

Sometimes called "Streateries" or "Curb Cafes", patio extensions into parking spaces or travel lanes have gained popularity in cities around the U.S. These can be set up quickly with temporary furniture, or built out with architect-designed platforms, upscale finishes, seating, and planters. Either way, they are a quick way for restaurants with limited sidewalk space to create new areas for dining. 

For inspiration, check out Minneapolis's Parklet Program, Seattle's Streatery Program, or Boston's Tactical Urbanism Guidelines.

Public plazas

With enough seating and shade options, public plazas can easily become extensions of any indoor restaurant's take-out program. Usually plazas are managed by government, special service districts (SSDs), or private owners - but food trucks, coffee carts, or even pop-up tents are great options for restaurants that don't have outdoor space connected to their premises. 

To really dig into how humans use public plazas, we invite you to read or watch The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte. (It's from the 1980s but still holds up!)

Pop up dining and refreshment in parks

European-style beer gardens and restaurants have been catching on across America. Most successful executions include a trusted local operator, flexible seating, a not-too-temporary serving area like a food truck or shipping container, great lighting, and of course plenty of green space. These work best in city parks near offices for that perfect after work drink. 

Check out in the Trillium Beer Garden on the Greenway in Boston and The Porch at Bryant Park in New York City.

Street closures

In response to COVID-19, many of the densest cities around the country began closing streets to cars to give people more room to move around while physically distancing. But even before the current public health crisis, "Open Streets" were popular around the country. 

Open Newbury Street is a popular new summer tradition on a historic shopping street in Boston, where both restaurants and retailers bring their offerings to the open air. 

Patio extensions into parking lots 

Not every restaurant in Rochester is downtown. For those situated in larger shopping centers, businesses can stretch out to parking spaces surrounding them and create new opportunities for al fresco dining. As with any of these options, plants and umbrellas provided much needed soft scaping and shade.



Take the Next Step

Are you looking to extend your dining outdoors in Rochester, Minnesota? Take these steps: 

  • Do some research! Google "parklets", "streateries", "sidewalk cafes" for inspiration. Remember the basic elements of a great outdoor space: Moveable seating, shade, greenery, warm lighting, and in this moment - distance between diners
  • Contact your neighbors and landlord if applicable and let them know what you're considering
  • Contact the City Clerk's Office and find out what licenses and permits you may need
  • Make sure you're following all the latest MN DEED guidelines for restaurants
  • If you're located in Rochester's Special Service District, consider applying for the the Sidewalk Cafe Expansion Grant.
  • If you're looking to build something more elaborate, consider contacting one of our downtown design firms
  • If you're looking to bring landscaping/plants to your outdoor dining, we've heard that Greenwood Plants, Sargent's Gardens, and Viola Nursery have helped many downtown restaurants with their patios.