Local restaurants find ways to extend outdoor seating during colder months

Posted at 6:14 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 19:14:02-04

MILWAUKEE — With the colder months approaching quickly, restaurant owners are turning to creative ways to extend their outdoor dining experience for customers.

At Sala restaurant, located near UWM, co-owner Teresa Balistreri-Warsh said they just purchased patio heaters and a tent to make their outdoor dining experience warm and cozy.

“Patio heaters, we have them spaced out around so people can enjoy the outside seating as the temps drop a little bit,” said Teresa.

Theresa said the summer months have been steady with the addition of their outdoor seating space, and they are looking to extend that additional seating area as long as possible.

“In the fall maybe bring a lap blanket have a cozy dinner outside next to the heater and the pasta and the wine keep you warm," Theresa said.

However, some restaurants may not last past the winter. Kristine Hillmer, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said 33% of restaurants will go out of business in the next six months.

“I think one of the factors is if they take away the outside dining,” said Hillmer.

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants in the U.S. lost an estimated $165 billion in revenue from March to July due to COVID-19. Hillmer said outdoor seating has been a critical lifeline for restaurants to regain revenue.

“For those restaurants who have really been able to increase their outdoor capacity when they don’t have that capacity allowance inside,” said Hillmer.

At North Star American Bistro located in Brookfield, owner Mike Stoner said 75% of his dine-in customers are for outdoor seating. He also purchases heaters and a tent across the parking lot so customers can have enough space to eat outside, comfortably.

“I have a food runner that goes right to their table and it’s good to go,” said Mike.

He worries residents will stop eating out once the cold months hit.

“It’s my biggest fear right now that everybody goes into lockdown mode,” said Mike.

Mike said he has taken the necessary precautions to keep the indoor seating spacious and safe. He hopes by winter, customers will feel comfortable enough to eat inside.

“We are putting everything in place inside the restaurant so people feel comfortable and if we have to make future adjustments going forward, we will,” said Mike.

Hillmer said to ensure the future of local restaurants, it’s critical for customers to continue to support restaurants during the winter months, either by dine-in or To-Go. Hillmer said if placing a carry-out order, go directly through the restaurant instead of a third-party app.

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