When public health officials recommended socially distanced outdoor dining as the safest way to eat at restaurants during the pandemic, food and drink establishments responded by expanding the footprint of their patios and plopping picnic tables in their parking lots.
Right now, sweltering summer days have been replaced with cool fall nights — a fabulous time for outdoor dining. But what will happen when it gets cold?
“Everybody wants to sit outside,” said Fares Kargar, owner of Delbar in Inman Park. “With the cold season coming, I am working on getting the patio fully covered, with glass doors, heaters, greenery.”
Putting a temporary waterproof tarp over the patio, which is walled on three sides, costs $25,000. The fourth side will be enclosed with glass doors. That will provide shelter from the elements and some insulation, but, for the patio to be comfortable, it’ll need heating.
Kargar has been hunting for patio heaters. “You can’t find them anywhere,” he said. “I should have thought of them a little bit earlier.'”
Eric Brenner, owner of outdoor furniture shop AuthenTeak in Midtown, can attest that winterizing is on everyone’s mind. “I have sold more patio heaters since Sept. 1 than the last 10 years in business,” he said.
One of Brenner’s clients is Dave Green, co-owner of the Select in Sandy Springs and Paces & Vine in Vinings. For his two restaurants, Green purchased $20,000 worth of freestanding, dome-topped gas heaters and wall-mounted, electric infra-red heaters. Gas heaters already have been erected on the Select’s 54-seat patio.
Even though chef Doug Turbush recently purchased patio heaters for his east Cobb restaurants Drift and Seed, he will be including a note in Resy reservation confirmations reminding customers to dress for the weather.
Patio heaters extend the season, Brenner said, but “they are not effective enough for 32-degree weather. For that, you need tents.”
Norcross-based Classic Tents and Events has fielded plenty of inquiries from restaurants wanting to rent tents. Most, sales manager Camile Fox said, are looking to have the tent installed by the end of October or early November, and keep it up through Valentine’s Day.
But, Fox said, tents aren’t one-size-fits-all. “Tents normally come in rectangles. A lot of spaces aren’t perfect rectangles,” she said.
First-time tent renters are not only learning their options, but the safety measures they require. Some owners have asked Fox if they can save money by using their current gas-powered patio heaters under the tent. “Absolutely not,” she tells them. “You can’t have an open flame under a tent.”
Some restaurateurs are concerned about sacrificing aesthetics in the quest for comfort. Fine-dining establishment Canoe has tents, but partner George McKerrow doesn’t want to enclose them with roll-down sides. “We are attempting to get some reasonable heaters to continuously heat those spaces, but we don’t want to put sides on anything, or it defeats the purpose of eating outside.”
The longtime restaurateur said his team also is brainstorming ways to deliver food to outside diners so the plate stays hot in transit.
A few dining spots in Atlanta will offer a novel way for people to sup outside without freezing: igloos. Publico in Atlanta is putting a half dozen geodesic igloo domes outfitted with space heaters on its patio. As part of enhanced safety measures, igloo reservations will be capped at parties of eight, and igloos will be fogged between each use, said co-owner Mike Duganier. Igloos also will return this winter to 9 Mile Station on the Ponce City Market rooftop.
Last winter, Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall introduced three 10-by-12-foot heated safari tents outfitted with communal tables, Turkish rugs, festive décor and lanterns on its green space adjacent to the Eastside Beltline. The two-hour rental price included food and drink. “We are definitely going to have some iteration of what we were doing last year,” owner Michael Lennox said. This year’s tents will be better weatherized to withstand wet conditions, and party size will be limited to eight guests.
Lennox also is exploring installing small, “quasi-cabana-like” tents along the perimeter of the building on Memorial Drive that houses his other restaurants, Golden Eagle and Muchacho. Unfortunately, he said, “the tent rental quotes we’re seeing are through the roof.”
“Here we are losing money, or breaking even, and we’re having to make these types of investments,” said Tom Murphy, proprietor of Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland, who recently coughed up $15,000 for quality patio heaters and is figuring out how to engineer a canopy over the space.
Prior to reopening Murphy’s for on-premises dining, he invested heavily in a Synexis air purification system, which mitigates infectious microorganisms in the air. “The Synexis system has been an important part of our trust with the community,” he said. “When we tell them we have the Syexis system, and give them a card that explains it reduces all pathogens, they are more at ease.”
Despite spending thousands of dollars to make Murphy’s indoor and outdoor spaces as comfortable and safe as possible, he anticipates that winter will bring a decline in on-premises dining, and an uptick in takeout. Still, he feels confident about that element of Murphy’s operations. “We have dedicated ourselves to great takeout,” he said. “And we’re one of the few with a wine shop.”
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