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Is Outdoor Dining Safe?!?

Marion Charatan

Posted on August 12, 2020 15:37

4 users

Health experts say it's safer to eat outside in the open air right now. But can protecting yourself from COVID-19 by dining curbside create another unexpected danger?

It used to be a weekly ritual for me to go and have dinner at a local restaurant. For years, my significant other and I went to a place called Tres Hermanos Family Restaurant in Bellevue, WA on Sunday nights. The Mexican-style food was delicious, reasonably priced and there was plenty of it. Before the meal, a server would bring over a huge bowl of chips with zesty homemade salsa, and you could really nurse that snack and talk as long as you wanted, perhaps sipping a Margarita. It was a comfy familiar environment with loads of ambiance. You never felt rushed and it gave Jeff and me time to catch up after a busy work week. 

Things have changed with the impact of the novel coronavirus. The guilty pleasures you once enjoyed, like a trip to the movies, the gym, a restaurant, or a club are more restricted. Many restaurants have been closed for indoor dining and are still not green-lighted to reopen. Tres Hermanos offers just pick up food service now to keep their business afloat.

As an alternative, some restaurants have outdoor dining. I thought this was a pretty good idea so you can still enjoy a "restaurant experience." However, there's a wrinkle that's shown up with this option.

Picture this. You're sitting eating dinner at a table having a nice chat with a friend or partner, and you look up and see a car charging toward you! That's something I never thought about but it is happening to restaurant customers. 

To help bistros and the like stay alive, many cities are permitting tables to be set up on sidewalks, curbside or in parking lots to accommodate customers. But something that was not expected is the fact that cars could plow into diners. Although it's not common, a driver could lose control of a vehicle from a medical emergency or mechanical failure and injure, if not kill someone.

The Storefront Safety Council reported 20 incidents of cars or trucks slamming into diners since restaurants initiated outdoor dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rates for prior years had been 4 incidents. "Clearly, we are already seeing a big spike in an eight-week span," observed Rob Reiter, co-founder of the group.

Last Friday, August 8, a car jumped a curb and plowed into people in front of a restaurant in Newport Kentucky, killing 2 and injuring 2. In Queens, NY, five people were injured on July 5 when a driver crashed into outdoor seating at 12 Corazones Restaurant. Another crash on July 23 left 3 patrons with minor injuries -- after a truck tore into tables outside the L'Wren restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.

It is clear that restauranteurs will have to take extra steps like putting up concrete barriers or moving tables further away from vehicles' paths to protect both their customers and businesses. Patrons should continue CDC distancing recommendations when eating outside. The "new normal" imposes many challenges to stay safe. 

Marion Charatan

Posted on August 12, 2020 15:37

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