Restaurants face challenge of outdoor dining in cold weather

Outdoor dining has been a lifeline for many restaurants during the pandemic. But a new report from Goldman Sachs estimates that winter weather will reduce consumer spending at restaurants by 3%-4%, which means some restaurants may need to rethink things. And whether that’s an investment in retrofitting an outdoor dining space or buying heaters, it all costs money.

Sam Glynn owns Chomp Kitchen and Drinks in Warren, Rhode Island. It’s been sunny and warm there lately, but not for long.

“Starting next week, we’re actually putting a 20-by-50 tent over our biergarten that will be heated with a tent heater, to hopefully buy us a couple more months,” Glynn said.

He’ll rent the tent for about $7,000 a month, and he’s paying for it with some help from the local government that offered grants to restaurants to weatherproof for the winter. 

Mike Whatley, vice president of state and local affairs at the National Restaurant Association, said Glynn is lucky to find anything.

“In certain markets, finding heat lamps for outdoors is as difficult now as finding toilet paper was for consumers in March,” he said.

And even if restaurant owners can find heaters, they will also have to pay for the propane. Whatley said across the country, outdoor dining is making up roughly half of all of restaurant sales. So when winter hits, he said those in colder areas will either have to find a heating solution or could be forced to shut down.

What’s the latest on more pandemic relief aid from the federal government?

President Donald Trump first tweeted that he’s cutting off negotiations on big pandemic relief funding until after the election. Then, later the same day, he called for piecemeal stimulus, including $1,200 pandemic checks for families to be signed by the president and arrive before election day. So, some whiplash here. Karen Petrou, managing partner of the Washington-based economic consulting firm Federal Financial Analytics, said “the president is always negotiating. I mean, he’s just trying to make a deal. That’s the only way I can explain this.”

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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