How Restaurants Prepare for Outdoor Dining in Winter

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    The fall surge of COVID-19 cases across the US and Europe has dashed hopes of expanded indoor dining. Restaurants will have to be creative to survive the winter when no patrons can be seated inside. Here’s a look at how restaurants prepare for outdoor dining in winter.

    Online Ordering, Curbside Pickup, and Delivery

    During spring 2020, many restaurants nimbly shifted to accepting orders online, offering curbside pickup and adding delivery services. When restrictions eased, many diners maintained their socially-distanced habits, wary of dining inside. As cases surge this fall, restaurants that perfected their curbside and delivery game will have to rely on expanding their customer base for those services. Menus might be adjusted as a result, but at least these service businesses will have a shot at surviving the winter.

    Igloos, Domes, and Tents

    As more people began to understand the risk of airborne disease transmission, restaurants adapted by erecting tents in their parking lots or domes in streets that were closed off to help restaurants expand outdoor dining when restrictions on indoor seating were in place. These structures could be open-sided in the summer to allow fresh breeze to blow in. As winter approaches, restauranteurs are faced with tough decisions about whether to maintain outdoor dining or dial back to just curbside or window service and delivery.

    While domes, igloos, and tents can be heated, it may not be safe to have diners in a completely enclosed space. Chicago will require domes to have warning signs about the increased risk of COVID-19 in enclosed spaces. A Detroit restaurant called East Eats is composed entirely of geodesic domes that had one side open in the summer. When they’re closed off for the winter, diners will be able to open windows in the fabric covering of the domes for air circulation.

    Heat Lamps and Wind Barriers

    So many restaurants ordered heat lamps that suppliers are sold out. In addition to heating open outdoor spaces, some restaurants are positioning outdoor seating to take advantage of natural wind barriers like building walls. Others are installing additional greenery to block breezes. Some spent money on upgrading their indoor ventilation systems to try to reassure diners where outdoor dining isn’t feasible. Yet over the summer, when indoor seating was permitted, many restaurants saw no decline in interest in outdoor dining—people felt safer sitting in the open air.

    It remains unclear whether diners will show up to eat under heat lamps, in igloos, or in heated tents. How well these new outdoor structures will stand up to a foot of snow and icy wind is also an open question. Restaurants prepared for outdoor dining in winter may be able to extend their patio season, but when the snow flies, no one knows if diners will adapt to eating outdoors.