Street food (Slate)

Close the roads. Reclaim the parking lots. Put restaurants outside.

When the shutdowns end, America will reopen with a set of restrictions that seem designed to leave most cities closed for the foreseeable future.

Restaurants and bars, in particular, will have trouble handling the new rules. In Texas, for example, restaurants may reopen on Friday for dine-in service at 25 percent capacity. Anyone who has ever waited tables will tell you that is not a sustainable business model. It’s hard enough in sprawling Houston, where bars are being outfitted with Plexiglas protectors. It would be nearly impossible at storefront restaurants in cities like San Francisco or Hoboken, where the governors of California and New Jersey have floated similar protocols for reopening.

Fortunately, almost every restaurant in America has the ability to quadruple its footprint overnight, with one weird trick: putting tables in the parking lot.

Few businesses are obligated to build as much parking as restaurants. Most city codes force restaurant owners to provide 10 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of restaurant — or approximately three times as much room for cars as for the diners who drove them. In normal times, this policy has many negative consequences: It makes running a restaurant more expensive, uses up an enormous amount of land, and creates a landscape checkered with asphalt that’s hard to navigate on foot.

In pandemic times, the asphalt shadows that adjoin most businesses could come in handy. What we know about the coronavirus suggests that it is mainly transmitted indoors, between people in close proximity, and that its transmission seems to slow in warmer weather. The summer, then, offers us an opportunity to restart social life in a way that reduces the odds of coronavirus transmission twice over, by keeping diners outside and well-spaced…

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