What new outdoor dining permits mean for downtown businesses

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As concerns over safety continue to be a factor in daily business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant owners are finding that more patrons prefer to dine outside.

“The outside seating is more popular right now,” Scott Partin, co-owner of The Tomato Head explained. “People want to sit outside. It feels safer, it is safer. But there is a real limit downtown to how many seats each one of us can put in front of our business.”

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced a potential aid to help that problem on Monday in the Temporary Use of Outdoor Seating for Restaurant Dining permit, which allows local restaurants a chance to increase capacity and offer additional outdoor space to customers.

“The city has been really proactive,” Partin said. “They understand the strain, everyone that’s downtown is an independent, local business. Save one or two. And the city understands how difficult it is for us, especially restaurants because our capacity is limited by the regulations and we’re fine with that we want everyone to be safe but it does make it challenging to drive enough revenue to make it worthwhile.”

Partin said over half of The Tomato Head’s guests are requesting to sit outside while dining during the COVID-19 pandemic. Space, however, remains limited in their outside dining area as they’ve cut back the number of tables to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“Right now we have four tables so enough for twelve guests, but that’s pretty limited and it’s just the way our patio works and we have to sit six feet apart,” Partin said.

The Downtown Knoxville Alliance, formerly known as the CBID, began reaching out to businesses a few weeks ago with a potential fix to their lack of outdoor seating, a permit that would increase capacity and offer additional outdoor space to customers.

The expansion permits are available to restaurants across the City of Knoxville and can be for both public and private outdoor spaces including private parking lots, public parking spaces and underutilized public and private property.

“I got an email yesterday that has the lease that we have to sign,” he said. “And hopefully as soon as we sign that they’ll rope off space for us and tell us where we can add tables.”

While it is currently unclear how much additional space the city will permit it’s market square businesses to use, Partin said they’re happy to take whatever is given.

“If it’s four more tables, great, if it’s eight, even better,” he said.


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