Before Jet Wine Bar in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse neighborhood opens its doors each afternoon, employees turn on propane heaters at a height of 3 feet, strategically placed on the sparkling outdoor veranda.

“We can handle up to ten at a time,” says Kamara Edwards, director of business and events at Sojourn Philly, which operates the Jet Wine Bar. “We turned on the first heaters in late October and left them on for about four hours each night.

Since temperatures in Philadelphia often drop below freezing in winter, the heaters allow Jet to eat outside when meal restrictions apply inside in the event of a pandemic. Edwards said management selected the heaters because of their price, aesthetics and availability, describing the latter as a “serious struggle.”

Yurt at Lilia Restaurant A private yurt outside Lily’s restaurant in Brooklyn, New York / Clay Williams.

By the end of 2020, it was getting colder in many parts of the United States, and indoor meals were banned or restricted. Finding cost-effective and efficient outdoor heating solutions was therefore the final hurdle that bar and restaurant staff had to overcome. The market for furnaces and fireplaces suddenly became highly competitive, with some manufacturers reporting a 400% increase in sales.

Small business owners had to get creative. Claire Sprouse installed custom seat heaters on outdoor chairs at Hunky Dory in Brooklyn, New York.

“I was looking for some kind of heating pad, but not made of fabric, because we had to be able to disinfect it before and after every guest sat down,” Prowse says. “It turns out that growing up in Texas has a scale for random things, like the small animal heaters that are often used in barns.”

The seat heaters, which were introduced in November, have been very popular with customers,” says Sprouse. Each must be plugged into an outlet, “so it’s not the most elegant configuration, but you can expect it in the middle of a pandemic New York winter.

Like Jet, the team at Hunky Dory weighed a number of factors when heating its outdoor space.

“We needed a solution that not only provided maximum comfort and COVID safety, but we also wanted something that would work for us operationally, financially and in terms of carbon footprint, so we immediately gave up propane,” Sprouse says.

Peaches HotHouse greenhouses In the heated greenhouses outside the Peaches HotHouse, people ate in sub-zero temperatures / Photo by Clay Williams.

To create heated glass booths near the Peaches restaurants in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Fort Greene neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the owners purchased prefabricated sunrooms and installed tables, chairs and individual air heaters.

“Greenhouses already know how to capture solar energy and increase room temperature,” says Craig Samuel, co-founder of the B+C Restaurant Group, which operates the Peaches restaurant. “They also have integrated ventilation and doors for privacy and security.”

Until now, customers ate comfortably in their cabins when temperatures in New York City were below freezing,” says Samuel.

“We spend $500 to $1,500 a month on propane tanks. – Kamara Edwards, stay in Philadelphia….

Unfortunately, this performance comes at a significant price.

“We had a high initial electricity bill to cover the cost of upgrading our existing electrical structure to handle the increased energy consumption,” Samuel explains. “In addition, despite the regulation of consumption, our electricity bill has increased dramatically.”

In Philadelphia, the Jetts’ propane system proved to be just as expensive.

“Patio heaters have to be replaced every six hours or so. ….We only have two operating nights per tank,” – says Edwards. “They make for a better atmosphere for the guests, and we couldn’t operate without them.” The benefits far outweigh the costs, but the profits are considerably smaller.

“We spend between $500 and $1,500 a month on propane tanks.

Propane heaters Philadelphia Restaurants in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square place propane heaters on the sidewalk / Photo by Clay Williams

These pandemic-related losses are particularly sensitive given the notoriously tight profit margins and low potential of the hotel industry.

Sprouse estimates that Hunky Dory spends “a few hundred dollars more a month” on electricity to run the individual seat heaters, although he notes that this is far less electricity than is needed for most outdoor restaurant heaters.

“These warming factors are just another example of how the pandemic has forced restaurants to incur additional costs to stay afloat during this period, while we have to control our sales, which have been negatively impacted worldwide,” she says.

Even as small business owners move and move mountains to stay open during a pandemic winter, bars and restaurants remain the centers of life in their communities.

“In addition to seat warmers, we also have a blanket donation program at the Ali Forney Center,” Sprouse says of Hunky Dory’s program with the Harlem Center for Homeless LGBT Youth. “It’s a way for us to spread warmth beyond our backyard to those who need it most.”

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