Keeping Outdoor Dining Spaces Warm During the Winter Months

As the weather gets colder, and we are still waiting on a widely available vaccine for the coronavirus, businesses need to start thinking about the future. Restaurant owners in particular are feeling the pressure to keep business going while staying safe. 

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants lost an estimated $120 billion in sales according to the National Restaurant Association. The CDC states that indoor dining increases the risk of COVID-19 spread. 

During the summer months, outdoor dining was a great solution to help restaurants scrape by, but now that winter is approaching, dining establishments need to think outside the box when it comes to the comfort of their customers and the profitability of their business. 

Outdoor, socially distant dining needs to continue to be an option in order for restaurants to survive the winter — but how?

Cities Get Creative With Outdoor Dining Ideas

More cities are trying to adapt to the colder weather and the virus. 

For example, Seattle expedited the availability of easy-to-obtain permits allowing extended sidewalk seating and closed off streets for outdoor dining through October 31, 2021. The city will also issue free tent and heater permits to assist in the winterization of dining establishments’ patios. Previously the permits were costly and difficult to obtain. 

Chicago hosted a “winter dining challenge” to source creative and safe outdoor dining solutions from their community. The top three ideas were announced in October, and they will be funded by corporate sponsors and piloted by the city to test out their success.

[Related: Outdoor Restaurant Seating for Social Distancing and Reopening After COVID-19]

Ways to Heat Outdoor Dining Areas

Heat Lamps

Heat lamps, also known as outdoor patio heaters, are the most obvious and simple choice for warming up restaurant patrons dining on patios or decks. However, they can sometimes be pricey and have been flying off the shelves as of late because of the pandemic. 

Do your research before ordering so that you know exactly how many heat lamps you need, which type you need, and what areas they would do the best in. 

  • Electric patio heaters can have up to 98% energy efficiency and use no harmful byproducts — so if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, this is it.
  • Propane patio heaters get warm quickly, and usually come with free-standing or tabletop units, which you could integrate with your existing outdoor aesthetic.
  • Natural gas patio heaters are a great option if you already have natural gas piped into your business, and are the most efficient for high-use commercial settings.

Gas Fire Pits

Although they won’t be the best at heating a large area, having a fire pit in your outdoor dining space can look sophisticated, comforting, and be a nice sense of warmth for those waiting to be seated or grabbing a quick beverage. 

Gas fire pits are also easier to use and require less maintenance than wood-burning fireplaces or fire pits. Additionally, since they aren’t creating smoke, you won’t have to worry about your customers experiencing poor air quality. If you are using gas fire pits, tube heaters, or gas-powered heaters, please be sure to read the safety requirements for operating them in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space.

[Related: Ideas for Creating an Inviting Outdoor Dining Space]

Fabric Structures

The best option for creating a safe, durable, and cozy outdoor dining space is using engineered fabric structures like the ones by WeatherPort® Shelter Systems. WeatherPort has over 50 years of experience working with restaurant owners to create a wide variety of outdoor dining solutions.

Outdoor dining fabric structures are engineered with safety and durability in mind, meeting and exceeding local building codes for wind and snow, and lasting for years.

Additionally, WeatherPort’s fabric buildings can be equipped with insulation packages and HVAC systems to keep outdoor patrons warm. Paired with a safe heating source, an outdoor dining fabric structure will keep guests warm and cozy during the winter. 

All WeatherPort fabric buildings are built with a flame-resistant tensioned membrane that can be designed to exceed the California Code of Regulations for membrane structures, so you can rest assured you and your guests will be safe.

Tips for Keeping Customers Coming Back During Winter Weather

In addition to crafting a warm shelter that will allow for comfortable and safe outdoor dining, here are several other tips to keep customers coming back during the winter:

  • Publicize your winter plan on your website and social media accounts. 
  • Let people know your patio is open, and what you’re doing to keep them warm and toasty. 
  • Publicise your cleaning and disinfecting strategy and schedule to ensure customers they are going to be safe and well taken care of. 
  • Try out apps that allow virtual ordering to limit in-person interactions. 
  • Optimize your website for easy pickup and delivery options if dining on your patio isn’t an option for some people.
  • Ask for feedback on what would make dining outdoors more comfortable.

[Related: Increase Dining Appeal and Capacity With an Outdoor Restaurant Canopy]

Contact WeatherPort Today

Are you a restaurant owner or manager wondering how you can create the best winter outdoor dining plan for your dining establishment? Let’s talk. Contact WeatherPort today to find out how an engineered fabric structure can help your restaurant thrive through the cold winter months.

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