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Outdoor expansion a win for restaurants

Just as no one could have anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing lockdown and economic fallout, currently no one has a crystal ball to tell how long it will last, and when we'll all be able to go back to what we all term “life as normal” – our lives pre-March 13, 2020. In lieu of that foresight, we have to praise the city of Birmingham and its city commission for working hard to come up with creative inducements to entice shoppers and diners to the city – first, by putting all on-street and structure parking on hiatus – on-street parking was reinstated July 1, but by a recent resolution, all parking will stay free at all of the city's parking lots until the end of the year. Businesses with monthly permits – which cost between $35 to $70 per permit a month – are asked to pay $100 for the four months in order to keep their accounts active. Staff and the city commission have also been proactive in expanding the city's outdoor dining scene, and now, in permitting it to exist, in some way, shape or form, all winter long. Yes, we live in the snow belt. Restaurants who want to keep their outdoor dining open will need to acquire heaters, likely blankets, and get very creative with enclosures for our blustery winter days. Some diners may not see those enclosures as substantially different than eating indoors. But the fact that they can stay open, rather than closing in early November, is an opportunity for dining establishments to hopefully make up some revenue they would have otherwise lost as many diners choose not to eat indoors during this fraught period. Interior spaces in restaurants must cut their dining capacity by 50 percent; Birmingham is permitting them to take that 50 percent and put it outdoors, with a permit and the fee waived. Economists estimate it may take nine to 12 months for many restaurateurs to make up for revenue they lost during the lockdown; many are still struggling with sustainability, and there is a loss to the industry in skilled and talented labor. Others may be shutting their doors for good. Let's not allow it to be our neighbors. If you're going out this fall or winter – think local. If you're choosing instead to order take out – think local. And hopefully, many of these outdoor establishments will create some delightful hot toddy recipes to warm us all.

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