Restaurants with outdoor dining prepare for winds of winter

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Eddie McKinney, kitchen manager at Pies and Pints at 7227 N. High St. in Worthington, makes a pizza Nov. 12. General manager Tanya Varner (not pictured) said the pizzeria has had many customers over the past couple of months choose its patio to avoid indoor seating and enjoy the warm weather.

Restaurant operators around Worthington say they have benefited from the outdoor-dining season because the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has limited indoor service and affected business as a whole.

But as an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Ohio makes continued indoor dining uncertain on every level, one thing is certain: Winter is coming.

At Pies and Pints at 7227 N. High St. in Worthington, general manager Tanya Varner said the pizzeria has had many customers over the past couple of months choose its patio to avoid indoor seating and enjoy the warm weather. 

“It’s benefited our business tremendously, mainly because most of our guests are still enjoying the outdoor weather," Varner said. "We’ve been very fortunate to have that patio.”

Pies and Pints maintains eight tables on its partially-enclosed patio and 16 tab inside, down from the 25 to 30 tables the restaurant used to maintain in the dining room. 

As the winter months arrive and the weather turns colder, Varner said, the patio will stay open with space heaters.

A sign on the door at Pies and Pints at 7227 N. High St. in Worthington directs customers to wear masks.

Winter might lead to a downturn in business, she said, but likely not much more than it has in previous winters.

“Mainly because of the fact it does every year,” she said. “But I do believe it will be a little bit worse (because of the coronavirus).”

Meanwhile, the Old Bag of Nails Pub at 663 N. High St. maintains four tables on its outdoor patio.

Those tables have been popular among visitors during the pandemic, according to Eric Hood, general manager of the location.

“I think people feel a little bit more comfortable sitting outside in the open air,” Hood said. “I think (the patio) has benefited us greatly. As soon as the weather turns good enough for people to actually come outside and sit outside, it’s been popular all summer long.”

That activity has dropped off as the weather started to turn colder, and the plan was to put away the tables after the weekend of Nov. 15, he said.

Hood said as the restaurant closes its patio and the winter sets in, he expects a dip in sales numbers, particularly as dine-in patrons decrease and the location cannot sell as much alcohol.

But those numbers normally have been offset in previous years by carryout orders, he said.

“Most nights we do pretty well with carryout, especially once people get kind of used to it again – used to doing carryout and used to it being cold outside – we see our carryout numbers skyrocket and the dine-in numbers drop,” Hood said.

Tory Hricovec, general manager of First Watch, 116 Worthington Mall, said the restaurant is working on obtaining heaters for its four-table patio, but it has had difficulty due to a shortage of heaters, as other restaurants also have been trying to acquire them.

“If we can’t get heaters, then we close our patio,” Hricovec said.

But if the restaurant cannot keep its patio open, she said, she does not foresee that affecting its bottom line during the winter months.

“If anything, our carryout business has been higher than it used to be,” Hricovec said. “It’s going to be the same. If people really want to go out to eat, they’re going to sit inside.”

Val Wielezynski, owner of La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro at 627 High St. in Worthington and two other locations in Dublin and Upper Arlington, said his patios have been helping the restaurants maintain healthy business during the pandemic.

“People don’t have fear of dining outside or enjoying the sunshine,” Wielezynski said.  “The patios have been very awesome to have. We’ve been lucky this year (due to warm weather) because we’ve extended the (outdoor-dining) season for maybe four to five weeks.”

Wielezynski, who is from France, said European restaurants typically maintain outdoor dining year-round without heaters. He said he plans to do the same as long as the weather holds up. 

“As long as it’s not raining, snowing, or a blizzard, we’ll have people out there with coats on,” he said.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve