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State of the Air:  Planning Outdoor Dining for Restaurants in 2021

Open design has been the saving grace for restaurateurs during COVID 19. Restaurants who pivoted to fresh air dining weathered the viral storm, with Bloomberg declaring, “Alfresco dining is the restaurant industry’s best hope.”

As we continue to adapt to the “new normal” of COVID 19 and its variants, outdoor dining not only keeps hope alive – but is making a permanent stay.


Restaurant Air Quality: Pivoting in the Proof-of-Vaccine Mandates

Restaurant indoor air quality continues to be a major concern, especially with the highly-contagious delta and future COVID 19 variants. In the last month, many areas began mandating proof of vaccination for indoor dining, including NYC, Denver, New Orleans, Seattle, and Maui.   In the six weeks since San Francisco’s mandate began, 40% of the city’s reservations have been for outdoor tables, which doubled the rate of other global cities, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Los Angeles too is highly recommending vaccine verification for all interior dining, while mandating proof-of-vaccination inside all bars, wineries, breweries, lounges, and nightclubs.

With concern over restaurant indoor air quality persisting through the pandemic, outdoor dining remains key. “As virus variants emerge, operators requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining will likely benefit from having outdoor options,” advised the National Restaurant Association.

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Making Alfresco Permanent After COVID 19

Concerned about restaurant indoor air quality, diners resoundingly approve of alfresco dining, with 84% of adults favoring allowing restaurants to set up outdoor tables permanently, as reported in the 2021 Mid-Year State of the Restaurant Industry Update.  According to the National Restaurant Association, 90% of operators who expanded their outdoor seating onto sidewalks, streets, or parking lots hope to continue their alfresco offerings post-pandemic.

Local governments are in sync with the alfresco sentiment, with many cities in the process of making permanent the outdoor dining provisions first introduced in the pandemic.  Originally an emergency program, the success of New York’s Open Restaurants has prompted NYC to make the “streateries” permanent beginning in 2023, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.  This program allows eateries to expand onto their adjacent sidewalks and curbside roadway space.  If there are three or more restaurants on a single block, they can apply together to Open Streets, which closes streets to car traffic for outdoor dining.

To boost interior air quality, other regions across the country are considering making the changes permanent as well.  San Diego is currently in the approval process of making its “Spaces as Places” program permanent, which would allow for the temporary spaces to become mainstays with established design and safety standards.  Portland, Maine is also considering making their parklets permanent, including permanently closing several streets to traffic.


Changing Designs for Changing Times

As alfresco dining becomes a permanent mainstay in the minds of diners, more establishments are permanently embracing open design.  The National Restaurant Association reported 62% of fine dining and 56% of casual dining restaurants devoted more resources to creating and expanding outdoor dining since the onset of the pandemic.

The main choice of restaurateurs are Panda Folding Door Systems, also known as bi-fold doors or accordion doors.  Our innovative, top-hung doors fold away quickly, leaving 90% open space from our individual panels stacking so compactly.  Even when closed, Panda’s glass doors are engineered with clean lines that maximize the view and minimize obstruction.  It’s also easy to change the configuration of these versatile doors to protect against weather – all while still boosting ventilation and restaurant indoor air quality.

Our Horizontal Sliding Wall Systems are the premier option that can maximize openings at 100%.  Smart design slides and stores panels outside of the opening, with frameless options allowing for zero sightlines.


Benefits to Wellness with Outdoor Dining

Well-being benefits abound for opening dining to the great outdoors.  Panda Windows and Doors can open up your restaurant to many wellness benefits:

  • Customer Attraction: Your outdoor diners are your best advertisers.  Seeing your beautiful food in front of happy guests is a magnet for other customers.  Removing barriers to the beautiful outdoors, Panda Doors open the appeal of your establishment to all passing by.
  • Connection: Using folding doors removes physical and psychological barriers for entry, making it easier for customers to choose your restaurant.   Our doors fold away so completely that the entire establishment feels connected indoors and out, creating a warmer camaraderie and lively ambiance.
  • Restaurant Air Quality –  Interior ventilation is more important than ever before.  Folding doors improve restaurant air quality by increasing natural airflow indoors – which increases peace of mind for both your employees and customers.  “We know from all the evidence that outdoor restaurants have a lower probability of transmission,” said Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious disease expert told the Los Angeles Times.  In addition, there are other pollution concerns for restaurant air quality.  A recent study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management found that in an open-kitchen full-service chain restaurant, the interior air contained “offensively harmful levels of PM10 and PM5,” two types of Particulate Matter air pollution.  In fact, the restaurant’s air quality levels were far beyond EPA and WHO pollution standards.  In contrast, the restaurant’s ambient outdoor space contained safe levels of particulate matter (PM).  Air pollution indoors will continue to remain an issue after COVID 19 passes.
  • Biophilic Design: Our thoughtful design brings the outdoors in, connecting the indoor space with natural light and nature.  A seamless space is integrated between the interior and the outdoors.  The psychological and physical benefits of improving restaurant ambiance and indoor air quality are paramount in biophilic design.

Scientifically Proven Happiness:  Harvard Medical School recommends going alfresco because natural light boosts mood, reduces stress and pain.  Being outdoors also boosts Vitamin D levels, which guards against depression, stroke, heart attacks, and osteoporosis.  Being outside is also shown to improve concentration, attention, and memory – which helps your employees serve your customers best.  And it may help your customers remember why they loved your restaurant – and return again and again.


Benefits for the Bottom Line

Our innovative engineering allows us to deliver a product as beautiful as functional.  The benefits of Panda Windows & Doors start at the bottom line and can be customized to even the tallest heights:

  • Capacity: Creating or expanding an outdoor dining space increases capacity.  Each seat added is more potential for your bottom line.  According to the Simons Advisory Group, a $200,000 investment in outdoor dining spaces increased overall sales by $500,000 – and even more if the outdoor seating is year-round.
  • Easy Accessibility: Our folding doors allow for easy serving flow without doors for staff to open and close.  When the folding doors are closed, daily doors can be integrated into the system to allow for easy entry and exit.
  • Flexibility: Folding doors maximize usage of your square footage.  Easily change configurations, create dynamic partitioning, and customize the space to customer needs, whether for daily dining or for special event planning.
  • Weatherability: Panda doors offer steadfast protection around the year. Whether against high-force winds, flooding, or extreme temperatures, our systems are designed to meet even the most challenging weatherscapes.  Our thermally broken aluminum frame options reduce the transfer of heat or cold into your interior.  This insulation makes it comfortable and beautiful for your patrons to sit even close to the glass.  In addition to a wide variety of wood and powder coat finishes to match every decor, we also have coastal applications to protect against corrosion.   Our systems thrive in every climate, as seen by our clients from the oceanfront Ko’ Olina Resort in Hawaii and Wynn Properties in Las Vegas to Denver International Airport and Museum of the Bible in DC.
  • Technology – State-of-the-art engineering and 6063-T6 aluminum extrusions make Panda stronger than all our competitors. Combine that design intelligence with our European hardware and Delrin polymer rollers, and you have incredibly lightweight and durable doors designed for heavy, repetitive use.  Safety considerations include pinch-proof EPDM bubble gaskets layered between each panel to make the system child-safe.  We can even partner with your builder or automation expert to program your doors to open at the touch of a button or with verbal commands.
  • Limitless Customization – Our Commercial Lift & Slide Door Systems are easy to use and incredibly customizable, whether you have a tall height or even a curved radius. Many spaces choose internal bifold doors, but our innovative engineering offers limitless customization options, including inswing or outswing options, multidirectional or unidirectional layouts, and zero-post corner designs.
  • Special Applications – Whether you want to reconfigure areas for physical distancing or create partitions between tables, our Multi-Slide Door Systems allow for a space to transform from a fully closed wall into an open room within seconds. Multi-Slide Doors can partition a large space into smaller rooms as needed, such as socially distanced private banquet rooms with better interior air quality.
  • Budget-Friendly – From local delis to national food chains, Panda Windows & Doors is the leading supplier of doors that open up seating areas to the great outdoors. Our Panda Select series offers modestly priced versions of our popular door systems.

Panda is known for creating the largest folding and sliding glass wall systems in the industry. Our Folding Door Systems are most popular to open a space to the beautiful outdoors without needing pocketed areas.

With our large selection of Folding Doors, Multi-Slide Doors, and Horizontal Sliding Walls, we offer a modern aesthetic with incredible ease of function to the hospitality industry.

To learn more, please contact us or download our Commercial Door Selection Guide or additional architectural webinars and resources here, and inhale a breath of fresh air. 

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