'Dining Pods' Could Help Restaurants Fill Outdoor Tables This Winter

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Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle 

Restaurants & Hospitality: 'Dining pods' could help Atlanta restaurants fill outdoor tables this winter

Outdoor dining has proven to be a saving grace for restaurants amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. But with winter coming, restaurateurs face yet another challenge.

The Centers for Disease Control advises against public meals in enclosed spaces. Still, some establishments that have set up ample al fresco seating are seeing sales figures close to — or even exceeding — normal levels. The Georgia Restaurant Association has been working with local municipalities to give businesses as much outdoor space as possible, expanding onto sidewalks and into parking lots.

As temperatures drop and precipitation increases, covered patios and large tents can provide some shelter. Guy Wong is trying out a more intimate solution at his Old Fourth Ward spot Ruby Chow's. The restaurateur has set up what look like space-age "dining pods" on the Ruby Chow's patio. Metal heaters will be placed among the pods, each of which houses a single four-top table, to warm them up.

Wong told me he had heard of restaurants in New York and San Francisco deploying the pods to prepare for winter. He believes they will be on trend across the country in the coming months. Wong purchased his pods from a company called Alvantor. The models that fit individual tables retail between $50 and $65 each.

In May, restaurant designer Elizabeth Ingram, who created the aesthetic at Ruby Chow's, told me about "quarantine greenhouses" some restaurants in the Netherlands were introducing as a way to separate diners during the pandemic. At the time, still trying to process the new pandemic normal, I thought the idea felt a little too whimsical, like something out of an arthouse film. Clearly, enclosing individual tables is a way forward.

Sushi, ramen, banh mi restaurants planned for Westside food hall

The soon-to-open food hall that is part of a massive mixed-use development in Atlanta's "Upper Westside" is adding three Asian restaurant stalls and a bottle shop.

Banh Mi Station, Flying Fish Sushi & Robata Grill, Sakura Ramen Bar and Sakura Sake & Gift are planned for Chattahoochee Food Works.

Sakura Ramen Bar and Sakura Gift are owned by Anna Grace, according to a spokesperson for the food hall. The restaurant will serve traditional ramen selections such as tonkotsu as well as vegan, broth-less ramen with Beyond meatballs.

Sakura Sake & Gift will be a complementary bottle shop featuring rare Japanese whiskey, a wide selection of sake, beer and boutique wines. There will be a sake tasting bar with monthly sake and sushi pairing events hosted by Sakura's "sake representatives." Sakura Gift also will have ikebana floral arrangement classes.

Flying Fish Sushi & Robata Grill and Banh Mi Station are co-owned by Christine Nguyen and Johnny Cho. Flying Fish will serve "beautifully hand-crafted appetizers," "signature nigiri plates," sushi rolls "packed with a myriad of flavors" and a selection items cooked on a Japanese robatayaki charcoal grill.

Banh Mi Station's menu will feature traditional Vietnamese cuisine including bánh mì sandwiches, pho and vermicelli noodle bowls.

Alex Kinjo, co-founder of Atlanta Japanese restaurant MF Sushi, is on board as the brand curator and designer for each stall. Chris Kinjo, Alex's brother and MF Sushi co-founder, is not involved in the projects.

Chick-fil-A tops ACSI satisfaction ratings amid pandemic

With the novel coronavirus pandemic posing new challenges for restaurants in how they interact with customers, Chick-fil-A still is receiving the best reviews.

The Atlanta-based chicken chain scored 84 out of a possible 100 in a special report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, topping all limited-service restaurants. The ACSI typically releases its report on an annual basis but commissioned a second report for 2020 in light of the pandemic. ACSI studied 9,511 customer surveys collected from April 1 through Sept. 30.

Chick-fil-A also topped all limited-service restaurants with an 84 rating in ACSI's regular 2019-20 report, which was published in June. The chain has ranked first each year since 2015, when ACSI first started rating Chick-fil-A.

Atlanta-based Arby's, which is owned by Inspire Brands, an affiliate of local private equity firm Roark Capital, has seen its customer satisfaction rating drop from 79 in the 2019-20 report to 77 during the pandemic. It ranks seventh among limited-service restaurants individually studied by ACSI.

The average limited-service restaurant rating is 78, representing no change from the 2019-20 report.

Full-service restaurant chains may be garnering sympathy from diners amid the pandemic, as the average score in this category rose to 80 from 79 in ACSI's 2019-20 report. Customers have been particularly impressed with delivery from full-service restaurants, with the average rating rising to 81, up 5% from the previous report. Satisfaction with take-out from full-service restaurants rose 3% to an average score of 77.

Delivery and take-out from limited-service restaurants, which specialize in these operations, have not made as much of an impact with customers. The average limited-service delivery rating is 79, up 1% from the 2019-20 report. The average limited-service take-out rating is flat at 76.

Read the article at Atlanta Business Chronicle here.