A new al fresco dining option using streets in Charlotte is beginning in Plaza Midwood to help restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic.
Thomas Avenue is the first of up to about 15 outdoor sites planned as part of the city of Charlotte’s StreetEats program.
The dining program sets up outdoor seating using right-of-ways, private streets and parking lots. North Carolina restaurant dining rooms have been operating, due to COVID-19, at 50% capacity since May 22. Earlier in the pandemic, North Carolina coronavirus restrictions forced restaurants to temporarily suspend indoor dining.
Charlotte city planner Monica Holmes said StreetEats provides another way to help struggling restaurants. “These are businesses that are really important to their communities,” Holmes said.
She said picnic tables and pallet barriers now replace parking spaces along both sides of Thomas Avenue.
Lewis Donald, owner of Dish on Thomas Avenue, lauded the city and neighborhood merchants groups for initiating the program. He said many customers feel safer dining outside, and his 19-year-old restaurant’s patio only holds about 30 people.
He said during last weekend’s pilot launch, he saw about a 10% revenue boost.
“It’s great for us and brings out more people,” he said.
StreetEats in Charlotte
The plan is to have up to nine additional StreetEats sites next month and roll out more in November throughout the city from the University area to south Charlotte.
Holmes said the city worked with groups like Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association and Plaza Midwood Merchants Association for the Thomas Streatery, and is in the process of finalizing plans elsewhere.
Both restaurant safety experts and local health officials have said outdoor activities — along with proper social distancing and hygiene — are safer than indoor activities to limit possible exposure to COVID-19.
StreetEats is part of the city’s Open for Business campaign. Charlotte allocated $400,000 of federal CARES Act funding to implement the program, which includes buying or renting tables and chairs, creating road barriers signage and promotion.
“It’s really a way to get people visiting and dining at their local favorite restaurants,” Holmes said. “It’s all outdoor dining focused and using best practices for social distancing.”
How it works
The idea is similar to what other cities have done including New York and Chicago, as well as nearby in Belmont. Holmes said Belmont closes its downtown street to vehicle traffic on weekends. However, she said no full street closures are proposed in Charlotte.
Diners will find laminated QR codes on tables at StreetEats areas that will link to a website with menus for participating restaurants. Then people can call in their order for pickup, or some may even deliver to your table.
The program will likely run through the end of November, Holmes said.
More dining space
The city launched a separate program on May 22 allowing temporary outdoor dining to help restaurants during state’s Phase 2 of the reopening.
Restaurants are allowed to use parking spaces and extra sidewalk and street space for temporary outdoor dining. Restaurants may use up to 25% of the business’s dedicated parking spaces and are limited to serving less than 49 people in the spaces.
Total capacity for indoor and outdoor dining may not exceed 100% of fire capacity code, according to the city website.
Businesses can register with the city online, and there is no permit fee. Pedestrian safety and access cannot be hindered.
That program runs until the governor’s executive order on COVID-19 restrictions is fully lifted, according to the city website.
More restaurant relief
The city began accepting applications this week for its $4 million Food Service Recovery Grant Program, also from CARES Act funding, to help food and beverage businesses, as well as music venues, affected by the pandemic.
Grants for restaurants, bars, food trucks and caterers are based on the number of workers with $10,000 grant for five or fewer workers or $25,000 for six or more employees.
Applications are due by Oct. 19.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced North Carolina small businesses affected by the pandemic may apply for part of a $40 million relief program to help with rent, mortgage and utility bills beginning next week.
N.C. Mortgage, Utility and Rent Relief can provide up to $20,000 to a business, according to a state news release. The program will be administered by North Carolina Department of Commerce.