Cold weather a concern for restaurants depending on outdoor seating

New River Valley News

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Outdoor dining has been key for so many restaurants to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. However, cooler weather is on the way, and that could change things.

Restaurants across the country are reporting shortages in heat lamps, which are essential for outdoor dining in the colder months of the year.

In Blacksburg, it may be hot behind the grill at Centro Taco Bar, but downtown is making its way into cooler months.

Centro, fortunately, made the move to get heat lamps for their outdoor seating back in July.

“They’re really nice and cozy,” said Saul Gonzales, Assistant Manager at Centro.

Gonzales says Centro’s outdoor setup has been popular, and the new equipment keeps that outdoor option going strong.

“We got them really cheap, but now they’re basically double in price, the ones that we have outside,” Gonzales said.

Being able to offer outdoor seating gives peace of mind to patrons.

“We eat out more because of carry out options and outdoor seating options,” said Blacksburg resident, Dana Field.

Field and her friend, Jennifer Prevette, say they feel safer eating outside.

The option still being available into the cooler months makes them want to continue supporting local businesses.

“If it means sitting outside in the cold with a heat lamp, you know, going or jackets on, we’re going to do that,” Field said.

“Nobody wants to see anybody fold under the circumstances, so everybody is definitely in it together,” Prevette added.

Blacksburg restaurants got their first real taste of cold weather over Halloween weekend, with temperatures in the 30s and 40s all weekend, but the Senior Director for the Roanoke Regional Restaurant Group, Jerry Smith said that for Centro there was a line just to sit and eat outside.

“People do just want to be outside,” said Smith.

Smith says with the right tools to continue offering outdoor seating, Centro, as well as other restaurants in Blacksburg, have the confidence they’ll remain open until the weather warms back up.

“During COVID, we’ve learned that you have to be flexible,” Smith said. “As long as the town of Blacksburg allows us to continue to have the outdoor seating, we’re going to keep it just to have that additional resource.”

Blacksburg currently restricts restaurants to seating only at 50% capacity, but that town ordinance is set to expire next week.

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