Some Canadian shopping centres are turning unused outdoor parking space into patios to help support their food court tenants who have been devastated during the COVID-19 pandemic with business being impacted by public health measures restricting indoor dining.
Darren Milne, General Manager of CF Market Mall in Calgary, said the popular shopping centre in the northwest part of the city will have 25 picnic tables with about half of them covered by a huge tent.
“We’ve done this in response to the government order for no in-person dining and as a way to support sales for our food court tenants. But, given the positive initial response, I suspect we’ll keep this patio in place until at least September,” he said.
“Deciding to move forward with the patio was really in response to the government closing indoor dining most recently. While I think COVID has been difficult on retailers, for our food court retailers this is the third time since April of 2020 that we’ve had to remove seating out of the food court. Generally speaking, when people eat at the mall it’s because they’re already here. People don’t generally drive to the mall to go to a food court outlet to get takeout.
“And so we just felt we had to do something to provide some kind of seating as a way to support food court vendors. So the patio was twofold. It was done in a way to support our food court vendors but we also wanted to do some placemaking and really just make sure if we were going to do a patio that it had a comfortable feel and atmosphere to it. It’s not just picnic tables thrown onto the sidewalk just to try and create space. We’ve not only made sure that the picnic tables are spaced appropriately per the guidelines. We’ve got some planters and flowers out there. We’ve done it in an area that actually has some trees in the parking lot. So while you’re on concrete it certainly actually feels a little bit like being in a really nice patio atmosphere.”
In Alberta, the guidelines stipulate that up to six people from the same household can partake in outdoor dining. So the seating capacity for Market Mall’s outdoor patio for food court tenants is anywhere from 25 to 150 people.
Cadillac Fairview said it can confirm that the company is also extending patios at CF Pacific Centre and CF Richmond Centre in BC as well as CF Chinook Centre in Calgary.
Milne said CF Richmond Centre last year was probably the first to do the outdoor patio.
“There’s at least four of us at CF that are doing this. I suspect that you’ll see a couple of more centres add patios as well as we have some further learnings on how this is working,” he said.
In a statement, Oxford Properties said: “Oxford Properties has introduced outdoor seating and dining at its shopping centres to support our Food & Beverage brands. Currently, Kingsway Mall in Edmonton and Southcentre in Calgary have placed exterior seating in proximity to the food court and restaurants. Supporting our shoppers, employees, and our retailers through this period of indoor dining restrictions gives us the opportunity to try new concepts. Outdoor dining areas will be introduced at our properties in Ontario and Quebec as government restrictions are lifted and patio dining is permitted. Outdoor dining areas provide shoppers and employees an opportunity to relax and recharge while supporting the restaurants and food and beverage brands in our centres. We also introduced designated parking spaces near food court entrances and restaurants to expedite and streamline pick up of take-out and delivery orders.”
Milne said the shopping centre doesn’t have an end date firmed up yet for the outdoor patio area.
“But the feeling is this. Even if indoor dining restrictions were lifted in the beginning of June, we still think that there will be people who might not be comfortable eating inside,” he said. “So we’re going to continue to have the patio until some time in September. The other piece of that is we’re going to give some consideration if this is something we want to do every summer. The reality is that now we’ve purchased the tent and the picnic tables, there might be an opportunity to make this as part of the experience of coming to the shopping centre. And I think even outside of COVID, on a nice day, if people have the option of eating outside, they’ll want to do that.
“COVID has kind of pushed us to do something we might not have normally done but in creating this patio we’re going to continue to think of ways if it can become permanent in the summertime and how that would look and what else we would need to do. There’s some good things that have come out of that.”