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Heaters in Short Supply as Restaurants Scramble to Survive Winter

  • Heaters, fire pits, and other supplies see surge in demand as restaurants attempt to extend outdoor dining season
  • Months-long delay in orders means eateries that ordered late may not receive the heaters until nearly spring
  • Some restaurants are hoping for eased rules on outdoor dining to make the investment worthwhile

Demand for patio heaters, fire pits, and other heat sources has skyrocketed as colder weather arrives, with restaurants hope to extend the outdoor dining season. Suppliers have struggled to keep up; shipment on some orders has been delayed by months, meaning some eateries likely won’t receive their heaters until much of the winter has passed.

While heaters have also seen some demand among hotels and offices, restaurants are the primary driver of new sales. Outdoor dining has allowed restaurants to retain higher capacities during social distancing restrictions that limit the number of indoor customers. Connecticut’s current Phase 2.1 of reopening limits indoor dining capacity to 50 percent, but eateries are encouraged to continue outdoor dining arrangements as long as they can maintain social distancing and not exceed their usual capacity.

Some restaurant owners foresaw the need for outdoor heating and purchased the equipment earlier in the year. According to, patio heater sales in the Northeast surged more than 1,000 percent between March 1 and Oct. 1 compared to the same period in 2019. Restaurants have also invested in enclosures such as tents or yurts to establish more comfortable outdoor eating spaces.

Demand for outdoor heaters has also risen significantly in Europe, including residential customers who hope the devices will allow safe socializing during the winter. This market is more likely to rely on electric infrared heaters, while gas heaters are more prominent in the United States.

The strategy carries such risks, as safety concerns have entailed rules such as a limit on how much propane can be stored on the premises, which constrains how long the heaters can be run. Many restaurants are already burdened by months of diminished revenues, and an investment in outdoor heaters may not pay off if customers are unwilling to dine outside during the winter. Some restaurant owners are hoping that municipalities will relax the rules on outdoor dining, allowing them to continue using outdoor heating in the future.

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