Outdoor dining offers boost to restaurants during pandemic and, for some, beyond

Posted at 7:41 AM, May 10, 2021

CINCINNATI — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit more than a year ago, restrictions on indoor dining sent many bar and restaurant owners scrambling to find new ways to reach customers.

"Everybody was putting their heads together to think of what we could do to support these businesses," said Joe Rudemiller, vice president of Marketing & Communications for 3CDC.

In neighborhoods such as Over-the-Rhine, restaurant owners and organizations like 3CDC, which support those businesses, looked no further than out their businesses' front doors.

That solution in both Over-the-Rhine and cities across the Ohio River -- extended streetside outdoor dining.

"It's a balance between parking that you're taking away and outdoor dining, but I just like that both cities have been working to help the restaurant industry," said Bill Whitlow, owner of Rich's Proper Food and Drink in Covington.

Whitlow said temporary outdoor seating along Seventh Street helped his restaurant add guests outside that he lost due to limited indoor seating capacity starting last summer.

Rudemiller said he witnessed the same situation in the bars and restaurants he works with through 3CDC.

And as indoor dining restrictions are now being loosened or lifted, many of those temporary outdoor seating locations in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown have been, or are in the process of being, converted into semi-permanent spaces, Rudemiller said.

"These are really meant to be a long-term solution to creating more outdoor dining, to creating more vibrancy," he said.

Rudemiller said the city of Cincinnati paid 3CDC about $60,000 to oversee a $2 million contract to convert once temporary spaces into more permanent streetside decorative patios. About a third of the 45 bars and restaurants participating in Cincinnati's "streateries" program so far lease their business space from 3CDC, he added.

Rudemiller also said the way the program works is 3CDC oversees the construction of the patios that take up street parking spaces. Once buildout is complete, it is up to the restaurants who request streateries to maintain them.

"We build it out and we turn it over and it essentially becomes an extension of their restaurant," Rudemiller said.

There are 24 more restaurants waiting for the city of Cincinnati to release more funds to have their own streateries built. Cincinnati officials recently announced plans to use federal stimulus money to construct more streateries in the near future.

In Covington, about 15 restaurants, including Rich's Proper Food and Drink, met the city's guidelines for what it calls “safe and feasible” standards for outdoor areas. A report published by the city on April 28 stated about 40 Covington restaurants and bars offer some kind of outdoor dining.

Whitlow and other restaurant owners, though, are not expecting their temporary outdoor dining areas to become permanent.

Covington has set a deadline of Oct. 31 before current outdoor dining areas go away. City officials said there is not a plan to implement permanent curbside dining areas as Cincinnati has.

But Whitlow said he is happy to continue to have his outdoor dining space in front of Rich's at least throughout the summer and into the fall.

"The addition outside definitely helps," he said.

The first streateries in Cincinnati officially open Friday, May 21. Click on the map below to see streateries locations in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.