coronavirus in Boston

Mass. Restaurant Owners Voice Cold Weather Concerns With Outdoor Dining

For restaurant owners, especially in the North End, where restaurants tend to have smaller dining rooms, outdoor dining has been a shot in the arm

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In Boston's North End, restaurant owners are getting heated over the best way to keep customers warm with colder temperatures fast approaching

"The outdoor heaters are beautiful, I got this close to one, and I put my arms around it, it did nothing," restaurant owner Damien DiaPaola said Monday.

DiaPola says he thinks the propane heaters the city is suggesting won't do a good job of retaining heat. He wants permission to build a tent or canopy over his outdoor dining sections.

"I think it is great that they extended us to December 1st, but we cannot retain the heat people are not going to sit outside," he said. "The only solution is tents or something enclosed, to heat it up."

For restaurant owners, especially in the North End, where restaurants tend to have smaller dining rooms, outdoor dining has been a shot in the arm.

But for how much longer?

That's the worry.

Many restaurants have been reliant on outdoor dining amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"On a cold day, with a little bit of a wind, it will take the heat away, and how do you heat a spot this big?" John Picariello of Modern Pastry said Monday. "It really is a big worry, it's like January is coming early."

In a meeting on Monday, city officials said they want to continue to work with restaurant owners, but that tents and canopies remain prohibited. 

Getting propane heaters is proving to be tricky too.

"I would say right now it is definitely a little challenging," Andy Star of Boston Showcase Company said. "I just had a call from a place in Jamaica Plain, they are looking for 3 of them and I said we can get them by the end of October.

"They are still interested, it is definitely tough," he added.

Jason Waddleton, of "The Haven," a Scottish restaurant in Jamaica Plain, is also facing challenges in acquiring heaters. He was told they wouldn't be shipped until the end of October.

"The same sort of $200 heater is going for about $1200-1500," said Kali Bryan, who also works at "The Haven." Bryan said that since receiving the city's guidance last week, the restaurant has been in touch with around 50 organizations selling the heaters, and almost no one had them in stock.

The sidewalk tables are important to their bottom line. But with the late ship time and skyrocketing cost of the heaters, they're questioning whether they're worth it.

If they do go ahead with the heaters, there is concern regarding their storage. All patio equipment is required to be stored inside at night.

Waddleton says they normally have good business in the winter for their comfort food- they’re also ordering plexiglass to put in between the tables.

Back in the North End, restaurant owners are hoping for more warm days ahead, anything to buy them more time to find a solution.

"They don't heat anything, people will not be warm, not even a little bit, so there has to be a little bit of a compromise," DiaPaola said. "No one is breaking the bank, or being greedy here, we are just trying to survive."

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