Outdoor Dining in Winter

By: Sarah Huda


As the seasons change and the temperatures begin to drop, outdoor dining options tend to begin to look barren as patrons opt for warmer, brighter, indoor seating. However, in the current age of COVID-19 procedures, indoor dining is nearly non-existent. Customers are still looking for ways to leave their homes and stretch their legs in a socially distant and safe manner, and dinning is still a go-to option for such needs. This provides opportunities to lure customers in as you become flexible and accommodating in these new times. Yet, the issue still stands: how do you keep a customer comfortable during the winter months while outdoor dining is a must?


Outdoor dining these days look different. Most restaurants don’t have the space that allows for the traditional outdoor/patio dining and thus, have been turning the sidewalk, a parking lot, and/or designated parking on the street areas into new spaces for restaurants to utilize. In these cases, there isn’t much protection from the elements during the winter months. A great solution to keep guests warm is tents; not only does this keep people away from other customers not in their party, but it traps heat and keeps guest warm from snow or wind. This solution also allows opportunity to wow guests with string lights, candles, and/or decorations for the season; make it more than a tent, but a fun experience that is normally given through the atmosphere and ambiance of the indoor décor.


While the setting for the dining area can change, one thing doesn’t: the pavement. You can add to the pavement and keep feet warm with a decorative rug or carpet- just make sure to have it secured for the safety of your staff.


Yet, don’t forget to consider waiting areas or the space your hostess will be in! Be sure to provide umbrellas to shield guests and your staff from the inclement weather. Say your restaurant does have a patio area, an adjustment to the tent would be a plastic covering that wraps to cover the patio dining area; these tend to have windows or clear cut-outs to look professional and functional. For those that brave snow during the winter months, a fully enclosed ‘waiting room’ with spacing for safe distancing, would assist with separating the snow from those eating – a foyer, so to speak.


In tune with warmth and comfort, why not consider expanding the menu to highlight drinks that can keep them warm? This can be with regular teas and coffees or the occasional hot chocolate, or even taking advantage of the season with specialty drinks. Starting off the service with an offering of some warm beverages will ward off any chills throughout the meal. Nevertheless, the best solution for the wintertime are mushroom heaters. These can be placed strategically throughout the patio section to ensure multiple tables are able to receive heat, without burning or over heating guests. In any type of outdoor dining area, make sure there is amble space around above and around for fire safety.


When dining outside, the type of outdoor furniture is also something to consider for the guests. While metal chairs and tables may be functional and stylish, it can quickly cause guests to have a chill when sitting down. A great way to solve this concern is thick table coverings and warm cushions on the seats. The cushions allow the guest to not only stay warm from the metal, but comfortable for the duration of their meal.