While the colorful leaves and crisp air of fall may be long-awaited for some Americans, the season's brisk temperatures are posing a real threat to restaurants in many parts of the U.S.
State and local governments continue to limit indoor dining, especially in states like New York and New Jersey that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Even states like Colorado, which has fewer than 62,000 cases, still aren't greenlighting full indoor dining.
To extend outdoor dining as long as possible, restaurant owners around the country are arming themselves with heaters and preparing to construct tents. Many owners, however, agree that these measures will be no match for the weather come November.
"Two of our patios are covered and heated, but when it's brutally cold, the heaters don't do any good," said Franco Pisani, the owner of Paravicini's Italian Bistro and Ristorante Di Sopra in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Centennial State allows indoor dining up to 50% of a restaurant's capacity or under 50 people per room, whichever is fewer. So, Pisani is currently utilizing three patios, which now account for a chunk of his business due to the fact that the outdoor seating has been "more desirable than indoor seating," he said.
Pisani is prepped with heaters and covers for two of his three outdoor patios, which he hopes to utilize through the end of October. However, he says come November "you're not going to have an option" and he will be forced to close off the space to rely solely on indoor dining. By closing all three patios, Pisani says he will lose upward of 100 seats.
Still, he notes that "if you focus on the future, you lose focus on the present."
In Chicago, Barry Sorkin, owner of Smoque BBQ, shares similar fears, saying that although his business relies mostly on to-go orders, his outside setup can only sustain for so long and will not be able to bear the "brutal" Chicago winters.
"At some point, sitting in your living room eating take out is better than shivering in a tent," he said.
Chicago has allocated indoor seating at 25% capacity, but Sorkin does not anticipate reopening his small indoor dining space anytime soon, calling it a "social distancing nightmare."
For now, in addition to his tent, he said he plans on adding heaters to each table "to see how effective they are."
"We'll try anything," he said regarding the outdoor seating arrangement."If we can find a way to stay open and make it comfortable for people, we will stay open."
Restaurant owners in the Big Apple are equally as concerned, although they were finally given the green light last week to reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity by Sept. 30.
"I'm assuming come November, no one will want to [sit outside] especially with the wind tunnels in New York City," said Salil Mehta, owner and chef at Laut and Laut Singapura. "It is not a great experience. Even if I serve free food I'm sure no one will want to sit in -5 or -10 degree weather."
Mehta remains excited about having in-door dining reopen, even at such a limited capacity, saying that if protocols are followed and "we don't misuse this opportunity," it could quickly get to get to 50%, and 75%, and eventually 100% capacity.
That said, he still fears a second wave of the virus, especially with schools beginning to reopen. However, at the end of the day, he says that the best that can be done is "give them [consumers] a safe environment to the best of our abilities."