Winter is coming: Restaurants brace for outdoor-dining adjustment
Patrons of Tucci’s at 35 N. High St. in Dublin will be happy to know that patio seating will not disappear in the winter along with central Ohio’s warmer temperatures.
The patio is one of the restaurant’s best features, and the interior restaurant is fairly small, said general manager Michael Sharp, so salvaging patio space during the winter has been key.
The restaurant is installing a winterized tent, featuring a load-bearing roof to withstand the weight of potential snowfall, Sharp said.
“It’s time right now where we have to get creative and adapt,” he said.
Tucci’s is one of many Dublin restaurants preparing for the colder months, and the food-service industry across the state is facing similar challenges during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Outdoor seating has helped Dublin restaurants augment the number of customers they have been able to serve during the pandemic, said Scott Dring, executive director of Visit Dublin Ohio, formerly the Dublin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
When that no longer is available, the number of people eateries can serve will be reduced dramatically, Dring said.
“The bottom line is how can restaurants continue to sustain enough business to keep open?” he said.
According to results from a recent Ohio Restaurant Association poll, 46% of businesses surveyed believed if they continued to operate at their current capacity, they would be forced to close within nine months. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they were operating at less than 60% capacity because of social-distancing requirements.
The poll was conducted from Oct. 10 to 13 and references information from Sept. 21 to Oct. 4. More than 100 restaurants, bars and food-service establishments across the state responded.
Homa Lily Moheimani, manager of media and communications for the ORA, said she expects the situation to become worse with patios closing.
“They’re trying to be as creative as possible,” she said, by adding outdoor dining tents, igloos and heaters to patio areas.
Sharp said Tucci’s tent, custom-made in Germany, will feature glass walls, noise-reducing sound panels and a heating system.
Although not permanent, the tent will be up for the duration of winter, he said, and it might be a spot for some live entertainment. It will cover the entire patio, about 43 feet by 43 feet.
Eighteen to 20 tables should fit under the tent, Sharp said. The tent is expected to be ready by the second week of November.
Staffing levels have been decreased by more than half, so the more seats the restaurant can offer, the more people Tucci's can employ, Sharp said.
A substantial amount of seating was lost due to social distancing requirements, he said.
Before the pandemic, the patio had 28 tables, and since then, the restaurant had to remove 10, Sharp said. A total of 24 tables were inside before the pandemic, and Tucci’s has lost eight of those, he said.
State requirements allowing no more than 10 people at a table also have been challenging, Sharp said.
Likewise, director of operations Christopher Titus said North High Brewing at 56 N. High St. in Dublin already has lost about half of its seating because of the pandemic and associated distancing guidelines.
Titus said the tent on North High's patio will need to be put away in December because it does not meet standards for bearing the weight of snowfall.
However, he said, he plans to install a couple of heaters at patio tables during the winter, in case some patrons still prefer to eat outside.
Brad Fagrell, Dublin's director of building standards, said the Ohio Building Code and the Ohio Fire Code regulate tents, and all communities with a certified building department are required to enforce state building codes.
General tent structures used during spring and summer are not designed to support any snow load, and the first week of December is the general removal date for those structures, Fagrell said.
“The city’s approval for every temporary tent structure has a defined erection date and defined removal date,” he said. “We would have to start an enforcement action if the tents are still being used after the date specified.”
Fagrell said Tucci’s tent is designed to support a snow load and is a different type of structure than the average rental tent.
“There are currently no other structures of this type in town,” he said.
Although the Matt the Miller’s Tavern and Restaurant patio at 6725 Avery-Muirfield Drive has a tent, the risk is too great to have heaters there, as well, said assistant general manager Steve Paul.
Because the tent is close to the building housing the restaurant, any fire that started inside the tent could transfer to the larger structure, which includes other businesses, he said.
“It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen,” he said.
Paul said he anticipates keeping the tent up through the middle of November.
“It’s been a savior for our business,” he said.
After the tent is removed, Paul said, patrons wanting to eat outside would have to weather the elements.
Meanwhile, carryout services remain an alternative to dining in, Dring said.
He said Visit Dublin Ohio would resurrect a campaign started at the start of the pandemic to publicize carryout options at local eateries.
More information about Dublin restaurant hours, outdoor dining and safety information is available at visitdublinohio.com/restaurants.