Philadelphians woke up to a chilly morning this week. It was welcome relief for those who sweat out a summer quarantining with window units and fans. But a dip into 60-degree weather foreshadows coming cold snaps — and for restaurants, that usually translates to diners moving back indoors.
With Pennsylvania restaurants capped at 25% capacity inside (all but Philly will be permitted to increase to 50% on Sept. 21), outdoor dining has never been more crucial to business. The city and suburbs have acknowledged that, allowing restaurants to take over parking spaces, set up shop in front of obliging neighbors, and spill out into alleyways and closed-off streets.
In Philadelphia, the permits that allow these temporary setups are valid through Dec. 31, well past when most patios would normally close. If restaurants invest in heat lamps and ways to warm up their customers, will diners stay out in the cold?
William Reed, co-owner of Standard Tap and Johnny Brenda’s, is just one owner who hopes so. “I love the outside, I love the energy of the street,” Reed said, recalling a mid-winter trip to Brussels where he slurped down oysters outside a bar in the snow.
“You keep your coat on, there’s a little heater, and it’s sort of part of the fun,” he said. “I’m hoping that … people get a little more adventurous and maybe a little hearty and just hang out outside a little bit more.”
Le Virtu co-owner Francis Cretarola, who has pledged not to open indoors, intends to install heaters around the patio and encourage diners to bundle up. Memphis Taproom co-owner Ken Correll said his team plans to keep its patio open well into November. And Suzanne O’Brien, the CEO for the group behind Cantina Los Caballitos, Cantina Dos Segundos, Khyber Pass Pub, and others, ordered 40 heaters.
Restaurants can try their best, but the success of prolonged outdoor dining ultimately depends on the willingness of customers to tough out colder temperatures. The Inquirer wants to know how you feel about dining outside in November and beyond. We invite you to take our survey.