Outdoor seating has been a critical asset for restaurants around the country this year while indoor areas are restricted due to the pandemic. But as the cold weather has moved in, businesses have been forced to get creative in order to maintain the additional seating their outdoor spaces provide.
At Amato’s Woodfired Pizza, customers will now be able to enjoy their food in the comfort of patio igloos, which are expected to be open for business beginning this week. The igloos, which came at a cost of around $1,500 each, are 12 feet in diameter and hold up to eight people, Amato’s co-owner Brad Hampu told The Gazette.
Both igloos will be heated to make for a comfortable atmosphere, and they will also have air purifiers. After each seating, the igloo will be fogged to ensure the safest possible experience for every sitting.
Had Amato’s not been able to have any patio seating this winter, Hampu said the restaurant would have been down 60 percent in capacity for the next several months, surely another tough blow in an already-difficult run for restaurants. With the igloos, however, he said the capacity will be capped at around 60 percent, and he’s not worried about being able to fill them. In fact, Hampu said he had one person already call to express interest in reserving an igloo and driving an hour and a half just to experience it.
Once the town Christmas tree is taken down and space is available, Hampu said he will add a third igloo to add even more seats.
“The response has been incredible,” Hampu said, adding that the phone calls and interactions on Facebook regarding the igloos continue to pile up. “People are wanting to make reservations (for the igloos), and that’s something that we’ll have out this week … We think the response will be very positive.”
Just down the street, Restoration Brew Worx has also turned to temporary outdoor structures in order for its patio seating to still remain an option this winter. Frank Barickman, co-owner of the bar and restaurant, has installed structures resembling a gazebo or greenhouse on the front patio, which are now available for customers to enjoy.
Barickman said the portable structures are made of aluminum frames and polycarbonate windows that are typically used to cover home patios or greenhouses. He said those particular structures suited his business better due to the limited space of his patio, where the igloos being used at Amato’s wouldn’t fit.
There are two structures on the patio, and each will seat up to four customers. Behind the restaurant, Barickman said he has also installed four additional structures that are slightly larger and can seat up to six customers.
“We wanted to get as many seats as we could simply because inside, we’re limited with having to do the different things such as barriers and stuff,” Barickman said.
Each structure will be heated using electric radiant heating, and Barickman said he worked with the Delaware Public Health District to find ways to maximize the air exchange within the structures.
As for how the structures, which opened last week, have been received, Barickman said, “Excellent. The negative side is everyone wants to sit in them, and I only have two of them. But that’s the negative side of a good thing.”
Barickman said customers that sit in the outdoor structures will get their own personal dining experience, and perhaps with some snow even falling around them, a cool atmosphere to enjoy. In turn, they will be helping the business to maintain amidst increasingly difficult circumstances.
“I think they’re very important,” he said of the structures. “Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball to say, ‘Yep, we nailed it and it’s going to work.’ But if we build it, hopefully, the customers will come.
“We’re basically gaining back seats that we don’t have inside. All of us have a business model, we all knew how many seats we have, our kitchen can put out this much food. Well, we’re not there right now because of the limited seating, closing early, and all those things. So, hopefully, this gains us back some more seats and, hopefully, a cool experience for the customers as well.”
Temporary outdoor structures have also popped up on East Winter Street in front of Speck Italian Eatery and 1808 American Bistro.
“Our outdoor dining pods are here! These are secluded, heated dining greenhouses for the ultimate socially distanced experience,” 1808 stated on its Facebook page Monday. “These greenhouses have their own heater, air filtration and music. They are thoroughly sanitized and aired out between each guest to keep everyone safe and healthy.”