Restaurants get creative with outdoor dining during pandemic but how safe are they?

Alex Jokich
Updated: January 13, 2021 06:39 PM
Created: January 13, 2021 06:28 PM

Minnesota restaurants have gotten creative with outdoor dining options over the course of the pandemic, but some are more COVID-safe than others, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reported on bars and restaurants adding igloos, tents and enhanced patio areas over the past 10 months.

"Understandably, restaurants in Minnesota have been looking for ways to maintain their clientele and keep people coming," Doug Schultz, spokesperson for MDH, said. "But if you want to dine outdoors, you feel safer in that environment, then consider whether it truly is outdoors or not."

In Minnesota, if a structure has a ceiling, at least 50% of the sides must be open for it to be considered outdoor dining, according to MDH's guidelines.

Some Minnesota businesses consider long-term changes to operations during pandemic

Popular Science recently ranked 'outdoor' dining options based on the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

They found igloos and other four-sided structures are the riskiest unless you are only eating with people in your immediate household. They reported these small, enclosed spaces contain stagnant air. So if you are out to eat with a friend, for example, you are stuck breathing each other's exhalations. Plus, you also have repeated contact with a waiter or waitress inside a small space. On a positive note, you do not have close contact with other customers.

They classified structures with two or three sides, including some tents or enclosed patios, as 'somewhat risky.' They recommend taking a good look at how much ventilation there really is before deciding to dine in that environment.

KSTP visited El Toro Mexican Restaurant in Robbinsdale, where workers nailed plastic sheets into a patio pergola to help block the wind. The restaurant said it is an attempt to make the patio experience more comfortable during a Minnesota winter and they are following protocols for how to use the space.

Popular Science said open-air patios are the best choices for outdoor seating, when possible.

MDH urges customers to use common sense when deciding where to eat outdoors.

"What we really want to encourage during a pandemic is for people to look at spaces that provide the maximum amount of ventilation," Schultz said. "We really want to have a maximum amount of airflow around you so the virus has a chance to escape."


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