St. Louis County restaurant patios expanding outward amid impending restrictions

Across St. Louis County, restaurants, together with city management, have been extending patios in creative ways to offer as much socially distanced seating as possible. As of 5 p.m. July 31, businesses in St. Louis County will be restricted to 25% capacity, and the extra patio space could be a big help for restaurants doing their best to adapt to changing guidelines.

In Old Webster, the sidewalks are lined with restaurant tables spaced 6 feet apart. Mark Hinkle, co-owner of Olive + Oak and The Clover and The Bee, explained how the development came about. “In response to COVID, [Webster Groves] waived licensing fees and loosened some of the rules and restrictions a little bit to kind of let people take full advantage,” he said.

The results have been great for neighborhood restaurants in terms of developing a comfortable and enjoyable atmosphere. “With us, and then with the Parkmoor [Drive-In] open now, it's really cool to be able to look from Robust [Wine Bar] all the way down the street past the block to Clover and The Bee and see people out and – socially distanced – but still having a good time,” Hinkle said. “It has a real vibrancy.”

The city of Clayton has offered an interesting opportunity to many of its restaurants: patio space where parking used to be. Many Clayton restaurants have had the on-street parking in front of their storefront turned into patio space with the help of bright orange traffic barricades delivered by the city. The city had enough barricades to create 12 patios for Clayton restaurants that applied and met some basic requirements. These outdoor patio extensions will be allowed until Nov. 1, according to Gary Carter, who works in economic development for the city of Clayton.

Holly McDowell of Louie explained that the new arrangement provides a significant boost to their outdoor seating capacity. “We only have about six tables out there now, so it will almost double our patio space,” she said.

At Five Star Burgers, a private patio now spills out onto the sidewalk and into an aquamarine and orange “oasis” on Maryland Avenue. In total, their patio can safely seat upward of 50 customers.

Turning the parking spaces into dining areas has been about more than applying for the space. “You've got these bright orange barricades that you've got to find a way to turn into a space that's inviting and welcoming for people,” said Steve Gontram, owner of Five Star Burgers. “It takes a bit of imagination.”

McDowell echoed Gontram’s sentiment. “They're obviously for protection more than anything, but we're going to have wood built around it, get some plantings out there, and put out some good tables to really make it feel nice,” she said.

As the number of coronavirus cases in the St. Louis area continues to rise and restrictions tighten again on restaurant dining rooms, customers and restaurant owners alike see outside dining as a best-case alternative. “I've talked with people at other restaurants who don't have the opportunity to do so much outside seating or to have a sidewalk patio, and it's really hard,” Hinkle said. “Serving outside is just clearly the safest way for us to do business now.”

Five Star Burgers has only been serving their patio for the extent of the pandemic. “We aren't interested in inside dining at all,” said Gontram. “We haven't sat anyone indoors since March. … We are very comfortable with our current model of outside dining and curbside carryout.”