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Arizona restaurant industry working with cities to expand outdoor dining

Posted at 9:42 AM, Nov 23, 2020

PHOENIX — The Arizona Restaurant Association is working with cities and towns statewide to develop resources and best practices for restaurants to obtain permits for expanding outdoor seating onto parking lots, sidewalks, alleys, and streets.

“There’s an old saying, you know, ‘When you’re in hell, keep going,'” ARA president Steve Chucri told ABC15. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Arizona restaurants suffered steep losses since the start of the pandemic, with up to 1,200 restaurants closing their doors statewide and 40% of pre-pandemic restaurant workers still out of work, according to the association’s estimates. Due to the current spike in COVID-19 cases, some health experts are urging Governor Doug Ducey to again limit restaurants to only take-out service, a move Chucri said would be a “death nail” for future success.

Doctors and public health experts interviewed by ABC15 have said the chances of spreading or contracting coronavirus are significantly diminished in an outdoor setting.

According to Chucri, Diego Pops and The Capital Grille in Scottsdale and Salsa Brava in Flagstaff are among the restaurants recently implementing these “expansion of premise” outdoor seating areas, with tents, chairs and tables set up for diners. Plans are being finalized for a similar setup at Pigtails in downtown Phoenix and Tay’s BBQ in Tucson. The Brickyard in Chandler recently obtained a permit to expand seating through a new program launched by the city.

In addition to aiding restaurants in expanding outdoor seating areas, the ARA is partnering with the Arizona Office of Tourism to launch a digital marketing campaign in neighboring states, showcasing restaurants, hotels and attractions that remain open with new health and safety measures in place.

“We want to welcome [visitors] to come to Arizona and have a mini-vacation,” Chucri said. “We’re here for them — whether they want to come into our dining room or whether they want to have takeout — we’re still here for them. We’re going to do it in a safe way.”