; How restaurants are preparing for winter amidst COVID-19 | RSVP Insider


How restaurants are preparing for winter amidst COVID-19

For many the choice is stark: find some way to seat diners outside without freezing, or risk going out of business.

BY RSVP October 21,2020

After a popular outdoor dining season, restaurants and bars in the northern hemisphere are facing the dilemma of keeping customers who want to remain outside warm during winter.

Experts say the rate of Covid transmission is lower outside than it is inside. Because of this, restaurants are trying to accommodate customers who feel safer outdoors.

Ms Canty, owner of Woods Hill Pier, in Boston, has installed outdoor igloos that can seat groups of people.

"We're hoping they help business by extending our patio season," owner Kristin Canty told the BBC. "At this point it's hard to tell if I will get my investment back. That will depend on the weather this winter and how they hold up."

The restaurant is located on the harbour and the igloos allow customers to enjoy the view and eat, all while socially distancing.

"If it's a huge hit, and they last, we can even repeat it next year and then perhaps the investment will be worth it," she said.

Ms Canty said the structures had proved popular with customers and other restaurants had asked her about them.

"Some are trying to order them, some ordered yurts instead, some are enclosing their patios with plastic and heaters, some are purchasing large tents. Everyone needs to do what best with their space," she said. "We are all trying to be creative to keep the guests coming back and feeling safe in this environment.

How to combat the British weather

In London, a number of restaurants have opened outdoor areas and are coming up with ways to extend this.

Beavertown's brewery has invested in a marquee. "Beavertown Brewery's tap-room reopened in July for the first time in months and it's been great to welcome people back for their first pint," Meghan Waites, experience manager at Beavertown said.

"For the winter months, we expect the tap-room to be in full swing and we will be setting up a marquee and outdoor heating to combat the British weather."

"The weather is neither here nor there for us, we're confident we have the right guidelines in place so people can enjoy a tasty beer at our tap-room," she added.

John Scanlon, general manager of 45 Park Lane, said its restaurant CUT had added outdoor heaters and blankets to its outside area. It has also shielded its space from the street with high screens to make it as intimate as possible.

"I would like to keep it going all year round so anyone who wants to be outside can do so," he said. "More and more diners want to sit outside if they have that option."

Cy Oldham has also invested in heaters along with other items for her bar, Far Cat, in Chicago.

"We are known for our harsh, cold windy winters so I would say that if I can get two months out them, it will be worth it," she said.

Ms Oldham came up with the idea of printing branded blankets and offering a range of hot drinks.

"When you consider everything, the gas, heaters, blankets, the hot coffee stations, probably all in I've spent in the vicinity of $10,000," she said.

Customers' reactions have been "amazing," she said. "People who live in Uptown are so grateful to have a place to go because they are starting to see all of the other places close."

But the expenses aren't just a one-off.

"Those expenses are daily - every time I go to fill up the propane tanks, that's another added cost," she said.

Heaters aren't that good for the environment

Demand for heaters has risen considerably, with some businesses saying they are now unable to order any.

Pete Arnold, president and CEO of US-based AEI corporation, which makes outdoor heaters, says demand has been "at least double" what it usually is for this time of year.

"We have been in this business for over 55 years and we have never seen demand like we have seen in the past 90 days," he told Quartz.

But while the heaters are great at warming their surroundings, they have come under criticism from environmental campaigners who claim they use too much energy, creating unnecessary carbon emissions.

Some locations such as France have chosen to ban them. French Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili has described outside heating or air conditioning as an "ecological aberration".

But as the pandemic continues, some cities are reconsidering the use of heaters to help the hospitality industry.

New York is allowing more use of outdoor heaters including propane.

(Article first published in the BBC)