COVID-19 Food Service Industry Report Out
Please Note: The information in this article was sourced from restaurant.org, thehill.org, Chicago Tribune, NACS, St. Louis Magazine and National Restaurant Association. For more information about the below topics please visit the following websites: www.restaurant.org, thehill.com, www.chicagotribune.com, www.convenience.org, www.stlmag.com, www.nrn.com.
With the spread of the Coronavirus, restaurants have faced many restrictions on their day to day operations. Owners of restaurants have had to make difficult decisions and come up with creative ideas to keep their businesses alive. With capacity restrictions, restaurants pushed to introduce outside dining and more to-go options. All the new changes and limitations have severely impacted the restaurant industry. In April, the National Restaurant Association projected that due to the impact of the pandemic, the US restaurant industry is projected to lose $240 billion by the end of 2020. While restaurant owners have been working diligently to prevent this loss and keep their staff employed, they are suddenly up against a new problem: the cold winter season.
As we enter into the winter months and the weather begins to grow colder, restaurants are scrambling to decide how they will handle their outdoor dining services. Many states are still enforcing a 25% capacity for inside dining. With this guideline in place, restaurants cannot afford to lose their outside seating option in the winter months and are scrambling to come up with funds to winterize their dining options. The National Restaurant Association released a statement:
“Seventy-seven percent of full-service restaurant operators said they would likely take advantage of incentives, like a tax credit, to help them purchase tents and patio heaters, among other equipment, to extend the outdoor dining season.”National Restaurant Association
The National Restaurant Association continues to work with government officials and encourages mayors to be creative in how they handle winter outdoor dining. The city of Chicago recently announced a “Winter Design Challenge” that will award three winners $5,000 for the most creative outdoor winter dining solution.
Consumers can expect to see a new dining experience with heaters, tents, blankets, and even igloo dining domes. Electric heaters seem to be the go-to alternative when looking for a solution. However, many restaurant operators are having a hard time finding these heaters. The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) took to the streets of New York City and interviewed Benjamin Prelvukaj, co-owner of New York City-based Benjamin Restaurant Group. Prelvukaj talked about how difficult it is to find heaters and that the company he typically rents items from is currently charging rent of $100 per day for one heater. Some cities have ordinances put in place for winter dining. For example, in New York, propane heaters or open fires are not permitted, but in Chicago, these are perfectly acceptable. Many cities are also requiring restaurants to hire an electrician to install electric heaters and make sure the electric is up to code before operating.
A unique option that many restaurant owners are exploring are dining domes. These igloo-like domes are made with non-toxic transparent plastic. These domes act similar to a greenhouse by trapping and keeping the heat inside. Restaurants can fit 2-8 customers in the dome at a time, and many restaurants are even charging a reservation fee to have dinner inside one of these igloos. Consumers may recognize these igloos from various outside events, but they may be seeing them more frequently popping up at restaurants. The igloos may come with a large price tag but could help create an intriguing dining experience that could potentially stick around long after the pandemic. Kye Pietoso, co-owner of Cafe Napoli, tells the St. Louis Magazine that he is excited to see the igloos set up around the restaurant’s 22 foot Christmas tree.
“I’d put them out next year, too—it could be a cool addition to the restaurant in the winter.”Kye Pietoso, Co-Owner of Café Napoli
No matter which option restaurants choose for outdoor dining this winter season, we know one thing is for sure, restaurants need the support of their community to thrive. The National Restaurant Association shares that more than 10,000 restaurants in the city of New York adopted outdoor dining, which in turned saved about 90,000 jobs. Please join U.S. Cooler in supporting your local restaurants as we all embark through this next season.