The Popularization Of Outdoor Dining Tents Since The Pandemic

Outdoor dining tents, like this one on Fifth Street downtown, have been popularized as a safe way to eat during the pandemic.

Article & Photo By: Piper Kirk

Ever since COVID-19 sent the country into lockdown in March of 2020, large white tents lining the sidewalks and streets have become a common occurrence around town. Circus? Mass fumigation? Or just another insanely bizarre development of the past year? 

Since the original lockdown, many businesses have struggled to find ways to safely reopen and continue serving the public as best they can in these unpredictable times. In particular, restaurants have tried to find ways to safely accommodate dining while conforming to mask regulations. That’s only made more complicated by the cold weather of winter and spring, preventing comfortable outdoor eating. The solution that many restaurants have come up with is large outdoor eating tents, the idea being that it protects customers from the elements while still keeping them outside. However, health officials say it might be doing more harm than good. 

When tents first started making an appearance at restaurants, health experts emphasized the number one safety concern relating to the stratures: the importance of air flow. Eating involves removing your mask, exposing yourself and others to the danger of coronavirus. In order to ensure safety, experts advised that restaurants use tents with only one wall to allow the free flow of air and proper ventilation. Unfortunately, the specifics of regulations were often lost between experts and owners, resulting in the closed four-walled-yurt-style tents that we’ve seen all over town. 

A tent with four walls and a roof is just a room sitting in the middle of the street. Without the relief of open space or crosswinds, the virus will stay in the air, where dozens of people will then flock to remove their masks in order to eat. Even three and two walled tents present an issue. Individual tents with your household are slightly better, but there are still other factors to consider- Is the waiter in the tent with you? How much time has passed between you being seated and the previous customers leaving? 

There are certain ways you can eat outside and stay safe. Single walled tents, umbrellas, or totally open dining are all acceptable, provided tables and chairs are distanced and santitany precautions are being taken. Restaurants that invest in a CO2 monitor can tell you how well ventilation is working by measuring the carbon dioxide in the air. Creating separate enclosures for groups of people coming together in households or pods keeps the risk of transmission from a stranger lower. It all comes down to what precautions restaurants and individuals are willing to take. 

With vaccines on the way and things finally beginning to look up, hopefully this is not a problem people will have to face for much longer. In the meantime, though, masks, distance, and ventilation are the best way to keep yourself safe.

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