Published Dec. 10, 2020
By MARIE MATHEWS
As winter approaches, local restaurants are forced to address the threat of cold and rainy weather while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. Many have turned to heaters and tents for outdoor dining and takeout.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, COVID-19 lockdowns caused a decline in eating and drinking sales from $65.4 billion to $47.5 billion in April, and steadily rose to $55.7 billion by September. Still, restaurants fear that the cold weather will lead to another decline in sales.
Due to indoor seating not being allowed, restaurants have been stocking up on heaters to maintain business in outdoor dining areas and parklets. Carmel restaurant SUR at the Barnyard has been able to move most of their dining area outside due to the restaurant’s large capacity and an investment in about 50 heating units, according to owner Billy Quon.
Other restaurants have plans to put up tents to avoid rain, which poses a bigger threat than the cold.
“The tent will allow us to keep the occupancy we currently have, and we should be able to keep our heaters in the tent as well,” says Wendy Walker, manager of Alvarado Street Brewery in the Carmel Plaza. “And starting in December, we will be selling blankets for $15 so guests who come in who aren’t as prepared or dressed accordingly will be able to buy a blanket.”
For some restaurants, heaters and tents aren’t a perfect solution. Together in a small setting, they could pose a fire hazard. At the Hog’s Breath Inn on San Carlos Street, the restaurant had to stop using heaters after installing a tent due to safety precautions.
Another concern is the availability of heaters as the demand increases dramatically.
“We can’t find heaters anywhere,” admits Jeff Cole, an employee at Sea Harvest Restaurant and Fish Market at the Crossroads.
For many restaurants with little dining space, heaters and tents may not be worth the investment anyways.
“I don’t think we’re prepared to do anything other than let the weather dominate if need be,” says Firok Shield, the owner of Bistro Giovanni on San Carlos between 5th and 6th Avenue. “If the rain comes, all we do is takeout, because there’s hardly any point in covering 16 seats. The side patio is going to be impossible to cover because there’s a project coming up later on.”
With limited seating, restaurants have turned to food delivery and takeout. Some have even seen an increase in business, including The Crossroads BBQ, which is functioning normally despite not having indoor seating.
“A lot of restaurants including ourselves have been able to adapt to the outdoor dining and increased to-go type business, but it still doesn’t compensate for the sales and revenues that you’re used to being open,” Quon says.
According to many restaurant owners and managers, loyal customers have been essential in keeping business going. Tourism is another factor, but that also tends to decrease in the winter.
“We’re very grateful, even for the 22 chairs we have,” says John Gehrman, manager of La Bicyclette Restaurant on Dolores Street and 7th Avenue. “We’re very busy. The public has been very receptive. They’re reasonably patient with the limited capacity we have. There’s a lot of restaurants that don’t have the business we have. We have a good staff, and we’re just doing the best we can.”
Despite the difficult and ever-changing conditions for local restaurants, many are determined to persist into the upcoming year.
“Hey, I live in paradise, so I’m not complaining,” Bistro Giovanni owner Shield says. “We’re all in this together.”