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How to Get Your Outdoor Dining Area Ready for Winter

Austin Chegini
11 Jul 2023

America is still feeling the effects of Covid-19, meaning restaurants cannot open their dining rooms to maximum capacity in many places across the country. Some businesses cannot have any indoor dining at all due to restrictions put in place by their local governments. 

While outdoor dining has been a lifeline for struggling restaurants, fall is in full swing. People are donning their vests and sipping on pumpkin spice lattes, but will they still want to eat outside in the cold? 

To help our customers prepare for the colder months, we looked into local laws regarding outdoor dining and found ways for restaurants to create more welcoming, warm patios. 

Four steps to prepare your outdoor seating area

Research city rules

Before rushing to build your perfect outdoor enclosure, you need to look over local restrictions. Many cities are accommodating businesses during this time, but you risk fines and closure if you do not comply with ordinances. 

Here is how some examples of how cities are managing outdoor seating during Covid-19:

  • Chicago, IL: Temporary structures for multiple parties are permitted but airflow restrictions apply. Structures covering more than 400 square feet need a city permit. Heating devices are permitted with restrictions. See the full details here
  • Buffalo, NY: The city is allowing propane heaters on sidewalks, patios, and other spaces as long as they are not enclosed
  • Hoboken, NJ: The Hoboken City Council had set a deadline that would have ended outdoor dining on October 15th. Since the virus is still spreading, the government is allowing restaurants to serve food and drinks outdoors until December 31, 2021
  • Boston, MA: Boston restaurants were only permitted to provide full-service outdoors until October 31st. The Mayor recently announced that businesses can continue serving outdoor until Dec 1st, 2020. The city also waived application fees for permits for outdoor propane heaters.


You want to add as many barriers as you can. This will help retain heat and block wintery gusts that cut straight through any jacket. 

For areas with mild winters, you may only want to install plexiglass windscreens or partial walls. For moderate to heavy winters, you may need to include a roof to keep in the heat after the sun goes down. 

Heaters can be very effective, but you need to keep safety in mind. While gas is certainly dangerous, even electric heaters can cause a tent to melt or even combust. First, make sure your heating method complies with all regulations. After this, you need to think about the cost and effectiveness of different heaters. 

Portable gas heaters will be what most restaurants use for their temporary outdoor seating areas. These are effective, but some do not concentrate heat toward guests. Also, overhead propane heaters can only be used for a single table, especially in an era of social distancing. 

You can also go with tableside electric heaters, but those have the same challenge as gas ones. You will need one for each table, which can be expensive.

Depending on the size of our space and the local regulations, you would be best to use a space heater. If you can add walls and a rough to your patio, you will be able to keep the dining area warm well into the start of winter.

Blankets will also be useful, so keep them close by. Even better, place one at each table to show your guests you care. This little act may be what encourages people who walk by your outdoor seating area to dine with you and will speak to your dedication to customer service.


In addition to Covid-19, other season illnesses will become more prevalent as the temperature drops. Proper ventilation is a core part of preventing germs from spreading in your restaurant. 

When constructing an outdoor patio, be sure to include open windows or doorways. Additionally, review your state and local laws so you can buy the right enclosure. For example, restaurants in Chicago can build outdoor enclosures for multiple parties if they leave 50% of the sides open. 

Some locales allow for fully inclosed tents, but they can only accommodate one party at a time. If you install these structures, you still need adequate ventilation and thorough cleaning between meals.

Keep it lively

Now, more than ever, people want to feel some semblance of normal life. Going out to eat is a fun occasion, and you want to make sure your restaurant provides that experience despite all the Covid-19 precautions. 

That all starts with creating a welcoming atmosphere. Staff members should be upbeat and provide fast service, especially because no one wants to sit around waiting in the cold. In times like these, the last thing you want is bad restaurant reviews.

With the holidays approaching, now is an excellent time to use music and decorations to create a fun, cozy space.  Music not only helps us relax, but it can also inspire diners to try themed dishes. For example, if you’re serving warm Glühwein, you can play German holiday music to add to the experience. Consider hanging wreaths and garland or providing hats and other costume pieces for your employees. 

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