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Take To The Streets: Columbus Lets Restaurants Expand Outdoor Dining Again

Bob Szuter describing the layout of their outdoor seating plan.
Nick Evans
Bob Szuter describing the layout of their outdoor seating plan.

A year ago today, restaurants around the state closed up to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although it’s probably a bitter anniversary for most Ohioans, the city of Columbus has a pretty nice gift—especially as mild spring weather returns. 

Starting Monday, restaurants around Columbus can once again set up on-street dining.

Hickory Street, running along the side of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing between 3rd and 4th Street downtown might look like an alley, but Bob Szuter sees a dining room.

“Yeah, we’ve got hopefully about 10 tables that we’ll be able to put out here,” he explains.

The city’s outdoor seating program began last year as a way to help restaurants supplement dining rooms operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19. Restaurants and bars can apply for permits to set up seating in public parking places outside their doors, so long as it doesn’t impede pedestrian or vehicle traffic and remains ADA compliant.

For those that have private lots, they can use up to a quarter of parking spaces for outdoor dining, if they maintain their handicapped spots. 

Businesses still have to apply for the program, but the city is expediting review, waiving the permit fee and paying for the traffic buffers that serve as a barrier between diners and traffic.

“You know, without the Blue Jackets, without downtown employees, no convention traffic, downtown has been very quiet,” Szuter explains. “So we are really excited to bring back a little bit more energy to the city, and honestly would love if the city would allow for this to be a thing that happened every year.”

Already the city has received 10 right-of-way applications, including all but one of the seven businesses that participated in 2020.

In a press release announcing the program’s return, Mayor Andrew Ginther said, “The pilot program successfully allowed patrons to support local restaurants, with more socially distanced outdoor seating in place to help prevent COVID-19 transmission. Resuming the program as warm weather approaches will help these businesses and their employees continue to rebound from the pandemic’s impact.”

Szuter says the addition of outdoor seating was crucial for their bottom line. Even with federal support like the Paycheck Protection Program, Wolf’s Ridge was in a tough spot.

“It basically doubled our sales, which again, just really allowed us the ability to know that we were going to make it through the end of the year," Szuter says. "So I can’t overstate the impact that this had.”

What questions do you still have about COVID-19 and Ohio's response? Ask below and WOSU may answer as part of our series A Year Of COVID.


Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.