What’s up with outdoor dining in Birmingham + local spots moving seats to the streets

Read Time 4 Minutes

Outdoor dining for the win. Photo by Chaise Sanders for Bham Now

As local businesses and restaurants continue to open and offer different dining options, we’re taking a look at outdoor dining trends. With Birmingham’s new ordinance and more people opting to eat on-site, let’s take a look at what some restaurants are doing.

A look at Birmingham’s new ordinance

Birmingham is always making moves and this time it’s outside. On August 4th, the Birmingham City Council Transportation Committee approved an ordinance to expand outdoor dining and retail options in the city. It will be in effect until September 30 when the city will reevaluate whether to extend the ordinance or not.

“The shared space permit will allow them to take advantage of contiguous public right of way to move some of their activities outdoors where natural air circulation, additional space, etc. make for improved safety for all. I believe that this will also have a beneficial side effect of adding to the vibrancy of our streets. And its for that reason that I think that the Mayor and Council should be open to the idea of keeping shared space permitting in place permanently.”

City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn

Like many things in 2020, we have to adapt to staying safe during a global pandemic. To keep customers safe, the new ordinance approved an agreement that would extend areas outside of businesses to allow some extra elbow room.

“The best streets are those that are made for people. The shared space permit will allow businesses to be more engaged in creating welcoming outdoor public spaces.”

What other cities are doing

Outdoor dining isn’t a new concept. Europe has been all over this trend and it even has the fancy name “al fresco.” Cities across America have adapted to the pandemic in different ways but one thing is for sure—restaurants are moving their operations outside. Since most of us aren’t traveling outside of the Southeast right now, let’s get a glimpse of “al fresco” dining in other cities.

New York City, NY

New York, New York—a city so nice that they had to name it twice. As we all know, The Big Apple was hit hard by the global pandemic. Phase 4 of reopening has allowed outdoor dining options and Mayor de Blasio has considered the city’s outdoor dining program a success. With more than 9,000 restaurants participating in the program, outdoor dining has a bright future but will have to be re-evaluated once temperatures start to drop in the winter.

Chicago, IL

Similar to Birmingham, Chicago has implemented a shared streets dining program but in certain areas. About 6 different streets including Lakeview, Chatham and Little Village have closed entire blocks to make them more pedestrian and outdoor dining friendly. However, as winter approaches, many restaurants are worried about having to close their doors for good.

Houston, TX

Houston currently limits restaurants to a 50% indoor capacity. The city council has developed a plan called “More Spaces” that allow restaurants to convert that 50% to outdoor dining options. This prohibits music in the adapted outdoor areas and limits closing hours to no later than midnight. The city is looking to learn from this pilot program and hopefully see it perform successfully.

Birmingham’s approach to outdoor dining

Restaurants are now able to expand their service beyond their walls. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Before the new ordinance was put into play, Avondale was the city’s guinea pig for outdoor dining. Avondale’s Eat in the Streets initiative served as a kick-off to see how Birmingham restaurants could benefit from outdoor dining. Needless to say, it was a success. What would you expect when you put food, social distancing and people tired of cooking at home together? You can read more about Eat in the Streets here.

Local restaurants who are already taking dining to the streets (or sidewalks)

The Lumbar

The Lumbar in Pepper Place has taken their hip, science-inspired bar and restaurant to the street. They’ve converted some of their parking spaces to a quaint outdoor seating arrangement complete with a tent for much-appreciated shade and plants.

Saw’s

Avondale’s Eat in the Streets was a success and let Birmingham get a taste of what many cities are already doing. Saw’s BBQ operates out of an extremely small space so outdoor seating was a no-brainer. They’ve utilized their side alleyway to introduce more outdoor seating and even gave us some shade to enjoy our barbecue.

Give me some shade, BBQ and I’m a happy camper. Photo via Saw’s Soul Kitchen Facebook

El Barrio

One look at 2nd Street and you’ll get Europeon vibes immediately. Many of the restaurants including El Barrio, Le Fresca, East West and Collins Bar have set up shop outside. Since many have closed down indoor seating options, make sure you plan accordingly to grab a seat on the sidewalk.

El Barrio is moving their good eats to the sidewalk. Photo via El Barrio’s Facebook

Queen’s Park

Queen’s Park is known for their whimsical indoor decorations. If you’ve been here around Christmas-time, you know what I’m talking about. They are one of the many bars downtown taking advantage of some extra sidewalk space. They’ve built a new patio area with plenty of seating that’s perfect for grabbing a few drinks with friends or family—at a distance, of course.

Grab a drink, kick back and relax on Queen’s Park’s patio. Photo via Queen’s Park Facebook

Paramount

Paramount was one of the first outdoor dining experiences once restaurants reopened. They have utilized 20th street’s wide sidewalks to allow outside dining. Thanks to the shaded areas and ample amount of seating, I could easily see myself making Paramount a go-to spot.

What are your thoughts on outdoor dining in Birmingham? Let us know on social @BhamNow + @now_bham on Twitter.


  • Chaise is a brunch-loving Content Producer and helps manage the Bham Now Instagram account.