DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Outdoor dining played a crucial role for restaurants the last two years. Now with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, restaurant owners expect this year to be different.

During the last two years, restaurant owners and cities have been creative with their outdoor dining spaces to try to make up lost revenue.

“Being able to do an extended patio out on the street, that gave us an extra entire dining room,” Roost General Manager Nikki Stargel said.

Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA) surveys report the state’s restaurants are doing better business than before.

“As omicron faded, we could almost see it week-by-week where restaurant sales would be improving,” Ohio Restaurant Association President and CEO John Barker said.

Even with numbers looking up, Barker said the ORA is still urging cities to keep their street patio programs and DORAs going this spring and summer.

“I think the outdoor dining piece is so important to not just as a short-term thing because of COVID, it’s something that’s a lifestyle thing,” Barker said.

Stargel said this year’s patio season will be less out of necessity, and more to create an experience for their guests who’ve grown to prefer outdoor dining.

“We’re not going to be worrying about sort of like keeping our heads above water, we really want to fine-tune the things that we have started creating over the past two years,” Stargel said.

Wheat Penny Chef and Partner Liz Valenti said she expects this year’s patio season to be more successful than before.

“Without a mask mandate on, I think people are going to be closer with their tables, and they’re going to feel much more comfortable, and once the weather turns, I think people are going to get excited to get out and get to downtown Dayton again,” Valenti said.

The Oregon District Business Association does plan to bring back its weekly outdoor dining event, Out on 5th, this spring.