How could Moving the Food Services to the Outdoors Lead to a Healthier Economy?

Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash

A farmer’s story

Buyan Ranch, a potato seeds farmer in Montana, has buried 1.4 million pounds of potatoes this year.

Why does food service business in the era of Covid-19 matters?

The reason why farmers buried their valuable potatoes was due to the food services establishments being shut down during this pandemic. This sudden pause caused a domino effect that hurt both restaurants and growers. As the restaurants cut down their orders with growers, and the growers cut down their orders with seed farmers, etc.

Therefore, helping food service establishments to open-up their commercial channels again is one way of rebuilding support for the agriculture industry that leads to a healthy economy.

How to open-up commercial channels to align with the current public health concerns:

Adjust current food service modalities: migrating food service to an outdoor environment would be a compromised solution for sustaining the economy and reducing adverse risks to the general public’s health.

Why is moving food services to the outdoors is a better shopping modality?

1. It is safer.

  • Airborne viruses are more likely to spread in an enclosed environment with centralized HVAC systems.
  • There are more areas to comply with 6 feet social distancing guidelines.

2. It is more profitable.

  • Shoppers reported staying longer in an aesthetically pleasing outdoor environment, which leads to greater sales revenues.
  • Shoppers claim they will spend more for goods and services in business districts having high quality tree canopies.

3. It is healthier.

  • Both visual and physical access to vegetation can support mental restoration.

A few solutions to expand food services to the outdoors

  1. Using existing parking grid: the standard parking space size (8.5 ft x18 ft) is a good reference for us to easily layout an outdoor shopping modality. Each shopper could stand at the parking grid (regardless which direction), assuming each shopper occupies 2–2.5 feet-wide standing space, the distance between two shoppers would be 6 feet. There is no extra marking needed, thus keeping the modification cost low and adjustment process easier.
  2. Extend dining area to sidewalk and streets: a typical restaurant with 2500 square feet enclosed space would require 1000 square feet of operational area (kitchen, storage, preparation etc.) and 1500 square feet of dining area. In a full-service restaurant, 1500 square feet would allow approximately 100 seats. However, with 6 feet social distancing, the available seats inside the restaurant would be approximately 30–40 seats. Therefore, there is a need to get another 35–45 seats elsewhere to support the restaurants’ financial operations.

If we let restaurants operate on half of a neighborhood main street (typically with 64-ft roadway within 94-ft right-of-way), it would benefit the local main street business activities.

Imagine a scenario where restaurants with 40 feet by 60 feet footprint could extend another 35 feet (15-ft sidewalk+8-ft parking lane+ one 12-ft vehicular lane) to 47 feet (15-ft sidewalk+8-ft parking lane+ two 12-ft vehicular lane). This would help the restaurant gain another 30–40 seats, adding much needed revenue and providing employment opportunities in the neighborhood.

An example of this is the recent planning in Mt. Washington, Baltimore where they blocked a section of Sulgrave Avenue to incentivize local businesses to safely operate their business during the reopening phase. The Sulgrave Avenue is a typical 30-ft roadway within a 50-ft right-of-way neighborhood street. With two to three stories buildings on the sides, this setting formed a comfortable square section that meets human scale while dining in the outdoors.

Will healthy people in healthy place equal to healthy economy?

Could this kind of service rearrangement during the next pandemic help us to sustain economy at both local and regional levels?

Locally, could the restaurants sustain their operations, keep existing employment, and maintain the local main street economies? As we all know that is critical to a quality of life in our communities.

Regionally, will there be enough commercial channels to keep similar orders in the upper supply chain? Surveying the current local businesses during this pandemic could help us predict a better supply and demand equilibrant in the future. As normally a growing season is ranging 60 to 120 days, depending on the type of crops. Preparing better layouts before the planting period begins would be a useful technique to mitigate the damage next time.

Lastly, we need to think more sustainably towards our economic issues. Just like there is a domino effect to our industries when there is a sudden public health issue, there will also be an impact if we don’t utilize our land in a sustainable manner. The other side of mass consumption of any kind, is more adverse environmental contamination that could leads to negative impact on our economy activities .

The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving. To stay informed, check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as your local health department for updates.




Architecture-expat living at the intersection of Art, Space, Place & City. Sketches more than writes. If interested, learn more at

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Hsiao Wei

Hsiao Wei

Architecture-expat living at the intersection of Art, Space, Place & City. Sketches more than writes. If interested, learn more at

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