Outdoor Dining: Safety Considerations for Restaurants

Plastic out door dining bubbles with tables and chairs inside to make for safe COVID-19 dining at restaurantsDespite the opposing forces of tightening COVID-19 restrictions and the beginning of a long and cold season, restaurants are seeking ways to stay operational. Many restaurant owners are considering outdoor dining structures – such as yurts, pods, and tents – to keep customers warm while also limiting COVID-19 exposure. However, there’s the risk of numerous legal and safety repercussions should a restaurant neglect the proper precautions. It’s vital that business owners carefully evaluate the viability of outdoor dining and the overall safety considerations for restaurants.

General Liability Considerations for Outdoor Dining

The first step is to make sure your intended outdoor structures comply with state and local building codes and zoning ordinances, which you can find on Massachusetts’ government website. If you plan to hire a contractor, you must make sure they have the appropriate insurance to ensure you’re not liable for injuries during construction. You should also obtain proof of their professional errors and omissions liability insurance. You’ll also want to ensure there are no hazards near your outdoor dining areas, such as ensuring electrical cords are covered and space heaters are securely fastened down.

Addressing Restaurant Property Concerns

Before building your outdoor dining structures, it’s recommended you consult local authorities for guidance on specifically how and where to set up the dining area. Some concerns you should bear in mind while planning the outdoor area include:

  • Structure Materials: Make sure the fabric used in any tents or pods is flame resistant, and the materials are designed to withstand moderate winter weather conditions and high wind speeds.
  • Structure Placement: The outdoor structure should not obstruct any of the building’s exits or fire escapes or restrict access to fire hydrants. You should also allow at least 10 feet between structures for the proposes of an emergency evacuation.
  • Fire Hazards: Plug electrical heaters into outlets approved for outdoor use and capable of handling the electrical burden. Furthermore, distance combustible equipment or storage at least 10 feet from the outdoor dining structures.

Strategic placement of your outdoor dining area and addressing accompanying hazards can drastically decrease the likelihood of a catastrophe.

Workers’ Compensation Considerations for Outdoor Dining

One of the biggest reasons for restaurant workers’ compensation claims are injuries incurred while transporting food, and when you add outdoor hazards into the equation, the risks are increased. Some precautions you can take to ensure employee safety include:

  • Place outdoors structure adjacent to the establishment.
  • Use carts to transport meals outside of the restaurant.
  • Regularly sweep and salt the outdoor dining area to avoid slipping hazards, such as ice and debris.
  • Plan for bad weather and consider creating an overhang or shelter that offers protection when delivering food outside.
  • Avoid areas that require staff members to regularly cross vehicular traffic.

Even with these precautions, accidents can still happen, so your team and your business must be covered by workers’ compensation.

Outdoor dining requires a great number of safety considerations for restaurants, as they have to look out for their team, customers, and state and local ordinances. However, even with winter upon us and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor dining is the only option for many restaurants. While you take measures to protect your business, employees, and guests, TJ Woods Insurance can ensure you’re protected from the financial consequences of any mishaps by matching you with the right business insurance. Be sure to contact us today to find out what insurance policies your restaurant needs.