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Restaurants Prepare for Winter as Colder Temperatures Limit Outdoor Dining Opportunities

  • Outdoor dining has helped restaurants stay afloat during limited capacity requirements and reduced foot traffic, and many venues are hoping to extend this option into fall and winter
  • Local governments are assisting with tax credits and streamlined permit processes to support heated tents and other initiatives
  • Restaurants may also continue to explore other revenue streams

Restaurants adopted a variety of strategies to remain solvent during the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from curbside pickup to family style takeout meals. Outdoor dining later allowed eateries to bring in more customers, either by capitalizing on existing features like patios and decks or creating new outdoor spaces through methods like blocking off a section of a parking lot.

As temperatures grow colder, restaurant owners fear that indoor dining may not be enough to get them through the fall and winter, even as restrictions continue to be relaxed. Capacity limits remain below 100 percent, and customers may be more wary of indoor dining since studies have shown it is associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 infection.

One strategy restaurant owners are exploring is an extension of the outdoor dining season. This could be accomplished through means such as tents, canopies, heaters, and outdoor fires. There have also been proposals for feature like heated tablecloths or temporary cafes created from tractor trailers, and restaurants that don’t opt for more outdoor dining may adopt strategies such as multi-course takeout or in-home restaurant experiences.

A National Restaurant Association survey found that more than three-quarters of restaurant owners would take advantage of incentives to help them purchase patio heaters or other equipment to extend the outdoor dining season. Local governments in areas with colder winters have also gotten involved in the process, and have been encouraged to assist restaurants by streamlining permit processes and providing tax credits or funding.

Restaurants have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19, with the National Restaurant Association determining that nearly 100,000 eateries have closed permanently or indefinitely since the start of the pandemic. More may opt to close temporarily and reopen in the spring. House Democrats recently proposed an updated relief bill with $120 billion in targeted relief for independent restaurants and bars with fewer than 20 locations, a suggestion originally put forth by the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

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