Heavy duty parasols, strong blog

Click on the topic that interests you

92% of catering businesses with an outdoor terrace expect to survive Corona!

Pierre Christiaens | Biography
Tafelrond, Leuven - MacSymo Parasol

The hospitality industry has been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, 92% of the businesses with an outdoor terrace expect to survive the crisis. Striking figures that we obtained from our market research among businesses in Belgium and France.

What’s in this article?

  • Market research questions how the catering industry experiences COVID-19
  • Looking to the future with hope
  • Businesses with outdoor terraces do noticeably better
  • First call to government: help the hospitality industry, allow more terraces
  • Hospitality industry still mainly active for customer contact, not for profit
  • Takeaway meals generate turnover
  • Lockdown weighs mentally
  • Appeal to the government for clear communication

Catering market research during Corona

Many businesses have closed their door during the lockdown and are awaiting spring with hope but a little uncertainty. As a supplier of professional parasols, Symo Parasols is in the same boat. COVID-19 reduced our orders as well.

However, we did not throw in the towel. Curious about how catering businesses are dealing with the pandemic, we had a market survey carried out among our customers. The responses we received were mainly from Belgium and France. The figures provide an insight into the future vision, frustrations and profitability of our catering industry, but also show alternative possibilities for the sector.

Insights we would like to share with you.

Looking to the future with hope

The question is, of course, when will the catering industry be able to reopen. Even the catering businesses themselves do not have a clear view on this. The majority hope to be able to welcome customers back to their establishments and terraces in March. Many hope for a quick restart, but do not dare to pin down a date.

The great news is that nine out of ten (92%) think they will survive the pandemic. 40% are certain, while 52% are “probably so”. This means that only 8% fear that they might not survive the Corona crisis.

Do customers come back quickly?

How do owners see the reopening going? One in three catering businesses expects their customers to return quickly and en masse, 41% expects a calm reopening with a nice spread. A minority of 20% expect a rather slow restart.

In the context of the rapid return of customers upon reopening, the media sometimes refer to the striking revival of the “roaring twenties”. Even after the Spanish flu (in 1918), there was a fierce return to a social life where more money was spent. This led to an eventful decade. This could certainly be repeated after Covid.

For example, after the first lockdown, we noticed that it was often difficult to reserve a seat at a restaurant. Everyone wanted to enjoy themselves again and the seats were quickly filled.

Some key figures on future expectations from the market survey

  • 34% are convinced that customers will return en masse and quickly.
  • 41% expect a calmer and more spread out start-up.
  • 92% think they will survive this pandemic crisis:
    • 40% sure,
    • 52% probably do.

An outdoor terrace proves to be the biggest asset during and after Corona

What is immediately noticeable is that catering establishments with a terrace respond remarkably positively. A convincing 92% of the respondents believe that they will come through the crisis without too many problems.

A terrace investment pays for itself

Of course, everyone loses from this crisis. But fortunately, well-run businesses have built up a strategic reserve so that they can get through a downturn. Another thing that may have a positive influence on the figures is that Symo’s customers are generally hospitality businesses that work very strategically on a profitable business. That is also the reason why they invest in a nice terrace: they know that investments in a terrace and parasols pay for themselves. Even when the situation is difficult, these businesses can still survive if they have to.

In the responses, we read that during Corona, owners have been extra happy with their terraces. Especially after the first lockdown, the terraces were operating at full speed. After all, this was the only place where customers could safely enjoy a drink or a snack. Consuming inside was not an option. Due to the beautiful spring and summer weather, it was often difficult to find a place on a terrace. Those who had not made a reservation were often faced with a difficult search.

Governments expand terraces

The municipal authorities in Belgium and France have also understood that larger terraces helped more than Corona subsidies. Many catering businesses were allowed to extend their terraces or keep them open longer in order to receive customers with a wider spread.

While waiting for the catering industry to reopen, the proud owners of a terrace are now also extra positive. Because where would consumers prefer to eat? On the well-ventilated (and hopefully already sunny) terrace of course!

Some key figures about terraces from the market survey

  • 91% find a terrace a great asset.
  • 53% have a terrace on public property and are supported by the municipal authorities:
    • 29% got a larger terrace,
    • 27% can stay open longer (during winter).
  • 77% of respondents would like to enjoy it permanently.

[We will tell you more about the advantages of investing in terraces in a subsequent blog post.]

First call to government: help the hospitality industry, allow more terraces

The government can help the hospitality industry by relaxing regulations for their terraces. As mentioned above, terraces proved to be a great asset after the first lockdown.

In a number of municipalities, catering businesses were given permission to extend their terraces. This allowed them to extend their existing terraces in public spaces or to keep their terraces open longer. Both until a later time in the evening and for a longer period during the year.

These relaxations gave the hotel and catering industry the breathing space it needed to survive. It is therefore an often-heard hope that these rules can be extended to all catering establishments (i.e. not only in a few municipalities) and that this relaxation can continue after the crisis. Possibilities could also be sought for businesses that do not yet have an outdoor terrace to be able to offer one.

Some key figures on terrace opportunities from the market survey

  • 91% find a terrace a great asset and therefore expect extra income after the lockdown.
  • 56% were allowed to install a larger terrace or to leave their existing terrace in place.
  • More than three quarters (77%) hope that this extension of the terrace will be allowed to remain permanent.

Heating and lighting

Allowing lighting and heating on the terraces would also allow catering establishments to welcome their customers with more variety. Beautiful terraces with proper parasols and lighting can thus contribute to a nice atmosphere in the city.

Therefore, we would like to make this appeal to the authorities: support the catering industry and allow as many terraces as possible.

  • Extension of the existing terraces (surface area).
  • Extending the opening hours
  • Extend opening dates (all year round)
  • Allow heating on terraces.
  • Allow lighting on terraces.
  • Find solutions to grant terraces to catering establishments without terraces.

Hospitality industry remains mainly active for customer contact

The market research shows that about half of the catering businesses with a terrace remained active during the pandemic. They often offer take-away food and stay open mainly to keep in touch with customers.

Keeping in touch with customers

Because keeping the business open and making a profit are not the same thing. Only 8% of the businesses surveyed manage to make enough profit to describe their work as successful. More than 80% keep their business open in order to stay in business, but above all to stay in contact with their customers. They want to maintain a good relationship with their customers in order to get back on track when they reopen.

Those who closed their doors completely during the corona crisis indicated that they mainly carried out beautification and renovation work in the business (50%), or waited until the catering industry was allowed to reopen (38%).

Type of catering business very important

We also found a correlation between the nature of the venues and whether or not they are completely closed. The majority of closed venues (45%) indicated that they were closed because they were dependent on tourism or events, or that they were located near a closed sports facility.

The hotel and catering industry is not (yet) losing heart and is making the best of the crisis, even though their work is often unprofitable.

A side note: 8% of the e-mail addresses were undeliverable. We also received many out-of-office and full mailbox messages, so presumably it was mainly those who stayed busy who responded. This may slightly distort these results.

Some key figures on catering activity from the market research

  • Half (48%) of the catering businesses remain active. Businesses that have closed often target tourists or are located near closed sports facilities.
  • The activities during Corona are not always profitable.
    • The hospitality industry mainly wants to stay busy and keep in touch with its customers (91%).
    • Only 8% made a profit during the lockdown.
  • Those who no longer have commercial activities do beautification or renovation work (50%) or wait and see (38%).

Takeaway meals generate turnover

Those catering establishments that remained open were, of course, obliged to rethink their business model. With consumption halls compulsorily closed, normal activity cannot continue. Various forms of take away are offered to continue serving customers.

From takeaway to food truck

At four out of five (78%) of the businesses that remain active, you can take away food. You can also have it delivered to your home, or use an external partner such as Deliveroo. Finally, one in ten works with window sales or sales via a mobile food truck.

Those who were already organised around takeaways continue to do so quite successfully. But what is also striking is that it is mainly gourmet restaurants (82%) that have started offering alternatives due to the lockdown. For brasseries and tearooms, this is only 53%.

Some key figures on takeaways from the market survey

  • 78% of the still active catering businesses offer take-away.
  • 18% deliver to their homes.
  • 11% use an external ordering service.
  • 10% sell in windows or work with a food truck.

Lockdown weighs mentally, but fighting spirit remains

Most catering businesses have been living under the yoke of corona rules for about a year now. It has not always been easy, but with takeaways, food delivery services and other alternatives, they are trying to make the best of it.

Concerned but energetic

The hospitality industry is worried but remains energetic and combative in order to get back to work as soon as possible. That nobody is happy about this situation should not be surprising, but it is striking how many businesses are angry about the crisis communication of the authorities. This unclear communication about rules and possible reopening causes business owners the most stress.

Second call to the government: clear communication

Wherever possible, the hospitality industry is looking for new business models to operate and is adapting to the changing rules on distance, decontamination and contact. Yet clear rules and choices from the government would make their lives much easier.

Investing in the future

After the first lockdown, the catering industry has made a lot of effort to make their establishments corona-proof. For example, hand gel is available almost everywhere and the tables are placed further apart to respect the distance rules.

For the winter, and with spring coming up, adjustments are also being made to welcome customers in the best possible way. For example, a quarter of the businesses have placed plexi screens between the tables as extra protection.


We have already mentioned that outdoor terraces are the best-ventilated place to enjoy yourself in a healthy way. When spring comes, terraces will be even more in demand. Just like after the previous lockdown.

In order to optimally serve their customers, many restaurants and bars are going further with their terraces. Almost every terrace provided more parasols: one third of pubs received extra branded parasols from their brewer and two thirds invested in their own parasols.

Terrace heating increases opening hours

It is also noteworthy that 50% have installed or are planning to install terrace heating to provide a pleasant environment for customers in colder weather or on chilly evenings. An advantage, of course, is that these investments will not only prove their worth during Corona, but also after the crisis, these terraces will be extra cosy and will embrace customers in an optimal way.

Some key investment figures from the market survey

  • 98% provide disinfectant hand gel for customers and set tables further apart.
  • 29% place protective plexiglass screens between the tables.
  • 17% take temperature readings when entering the shop.
  • 72% have their own parasols on the terrace – 40% (also) have parasols from their brewer.
  • 50% offers heated terraces.
  • 33% invest in more outdoor furniture.


The hotel and catering industry (with terraces) is positive about the future and remains willing to invest. They do this mainly in measures for hygiene and terrace design.

Much depends, of course, on the date of reopening and the flexibility given to the hospitality sector by the government. As became clear from the research, the hotel and catering industry is mainly concerned with keeping in touch with their customers and this is certainly not always profitable. This means that the businesses are slowly eroding their accumulated reserves. The longer the lockdown lasts, the more difficult it becomes.

Therefore, we would like to make this appeal to the authorities: support the catering industry and allow as many terraces as possible.

  • Extension of the existing terraces (surface area).
  • Extending the opening hours
  • Extend opening dates (all year round)
  • Allow heating on terraces.
  • Allow lighting on terraces.
  • Find solutions to grant terraces to catering establishments without terraces.

More details on the market research

  • Carried out on 7 January 2021 by the specialist market research company Devroe & Partners.
  • 3,200 catering businesses were mailed a questionnaire.
  • Survey of contacts of Symo Parasols. These contacts mainly have terraces, so they are not a proportional representation of the entire hospitality sector.
  • 229 entrepreneurs in the catering industry completed the list:
    • 163 Belgium Dutch language,
    • 19 Belgium French-speaking,
    • 41 France.
  • 50% out of office or mailbox full, so presumably those who stay busy answered.
  • Statistical error margin on results of 6%. (Deviation of -3% or +3%).

Pierre Christiaens
Contact me: christiaens @ symoparasols.com https://symoparasols.com