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Denver restaurants brace for cold weather after relying on patio dining during COVID-19

Patio dining
Posted at 6:08 PM, Sep 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-07 22:05:58-04

DENVER — Denver restaurants that have been taking advantage of extra patio space during the coronavirus pandemic to try to accommodate customers and make ends meet are now bracing themselves for a blast of cold Tuesday.

Over the spring and summer, Denver and other cities allowed restaurants to extend their patio areas beyond the normal licensing scope for food and alcohol.

Some areas have even closed down entire blocks or blocked off parking spaces to be able to add more socially distanced tables for service. Many restaurants say patio dining has been a saving grace for their business.

“The patio expansions that we were able to have through Denver was absolutely instrumental in us being able to work on weathering the storm,” said Brandon Hanson, the director of food and beverage for Union Station.

Under current state orders, Tavernetta near Union Station can only have about 50 guests indoors at a time. The patio seating has gotten the restaurant closer to its normal capacity levels.

“It’s also really important because it also makes guests feel safe,” said Justin Williams, the director of operations for Franca Hospitality Group. Guests are really happy to sit outside, they are happy to be dining and being able to enjoy being back at a restaurant again.”

After record heat over Labor Day weekend, temperatures are expected to drop into the 30’s with snow in the forecast before gradually warming up again for the rest of the week.

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Tavernetta is working on getting metal covers for its permanent patio dining area that can have canvas siding and tents for the extended patio areas.

“We’re not going to be fully prepared tomorrow to have all of our patios, or our extended patios for that matter, fully tented. So, tomorrow is going to be a little bit of an anomaly for us,” Williams said.

He’s also working on buying heaters for the outdoor areas to keep guests warm as temperatures cool down, but says he's noticed longer wait times for those heaters to come in.

The restaurant is also working to make sure customers feel comfortable dining indoors by taking additional safety precautions such as wearing masks, sanitizing every surface, adding more spaces between seating, etc.

“It’s already a very challenging environment but I think that we’ve been trying to be creative in the way that were looking at the winter and surviving the winter season,” Williams said.

The restaurant group is also ramping up its take-out options as the fall comes around for customers who don’t feel comfortable eating inside.

For restaurants that rely heavily on alcohol sales to make a profit, the state's executive order and subsequent legislation temporarily allowing alcohol to be sold with to go orders has also made a big difference for businesses and could also play a big role in their bottom line in the fall and winter.

“We don’t know exactly how the community is going to respond to (the cold) and whether they’ll be comfortable dining inside just like they were outside and so we’re looking to pivot as much as we can and making sure that we’re running a robust take-out program. The ability to be able to take cocktails to go and things of that nature are really helpful as well,” said Hanson.

For now, restaurants say they are doing their best to adapt to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic and now the weather are throwing their way, and they are hoping customers will appreciate their efforts and continue to visit their businesses.

“Everyone is trying to be creative, everyone’s trying to do the right thing and they’re trying to really ensure that they’re keeping their doors open so that when we get through this we'll all able to still be there,” Williams said.