Outdoor dining boosting restaurant sales in central Arkansas

It’s a trend we continue to see here in central Arkansas— restaurants using parking lots and streets to expand seating options.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It’s a trend we continue to see here in central Arkansas— restaurants using parking lots and streets to expand seating options. 

In the SoMa District, the Outdoor Dining Room has drawn many to the parking lot. 

Deanna Jones, Raduno Event Coordinator, said it is providing not only a place for the community to safely connect but a boost in sales for the restaurants there. 

“We’re all in this together and it’s not about a competition, it’s just about how we can all figure this out together,” she said. 

Within the parking lot at 13th and Main, a new type of dining is taking place.

Jones described it as a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

“It’s just a fun, walk down the street with your kids, with your dogs and meet up with friends type of vibe,” she said. 

Since the middle of June, the lot has been filled with over 20 tents, which provides a safe dining experience where people can enjoy a meal from one of the neighborhood restaurants. 

Owner of Community Bakery, John Brandenberger, said it’s impacted everyone in a positive way.

“People are ready to get back out and, not only stimulate the economy but really just connect again,” he said. 

That need to connect is turning into a benefit, according to Jones, for businesses on the block like Raduno.

“More and more people are wanting to sit outside, so this has really helped us to continue to drive sales and be able to accommodate people that want to come eat with us, but don’t necessarily want to sit inside,” she said. 

The new way of dining even helping Community Bakery, Brandenberger said, which has its heavier crowds for breakfast and lunch.

“We do get a lot of dessert business from people who are hitting these other restaurants and then coming down and grabbing a sugar cookie or a slice of cheesecake,” he said. 

According to Brandenberger, the bakery still isn’t open for dine-in inside, but Saturday and Sunday they decided to put up some tents of their own.

“Saturday we were busier than we had been in the last 10 to 12 weeks,” he said. 

Across the river, the Argenta District is seeing the same uptick when they put their own set of tents down Broadway, Brayan McFadden said. 

“We open up outdoor dining at 6 p.m. on Friday’s, there’s already a line outside. It’s been great,” he said. 

For McFadden, who just opened Brood and Barley this summer, the outdoor option has been extremely beneficial.

“We are probably, with the tents outside, seating way more than we’d be able to seat if we were at 100% capacity,” he said. 

This new experience is uplifting, not only businesses but the community as a whole.

“That’s what we’re in it for to make people happy, so to see people happy outside, it’s really been good,” McFadden said. 

Everyone said they hope this form of outdoor dining continues, even when we get back to more of a normal life.

Both the SoMa and Argenta outdoor dining are open seven days a week.