‘Our biggest fear’: Restaurants worried cold weather will hurt business – News – The Herald News, Fall River, MA
NEW BEDFORD — Walking down the streets of New Bedford there are seemingly more options for outdoor dining than ever before, but as the coming cold weather limits those outside settings, restaurant owners are wary about how their businesses will fare.
Over the summer, Tia Maria’s European Cafe has had multiple tables on the sidewalk along cobblestoned North Water Street.
Endzone Sports Pub in the near North End has transformed one of its parking lots into an outdoor seating area with 14 tables, according to co-owner Troy DeMelo.
Restaurants across the SouthCoast expanded their outdoor seating as a way to increase their sales and survive during the coronavirus pandemic that has caused the state to restrict indoor capacity at restaurants.
The response to outdoor dining has been overwhelming, according to DeMelo who also runs the Airport Grille.
Other restaurateurs have seen the popularity of outdoor seating during the warm months.
“It’s been a great summer,” Stephen Silverstein, the owner of The Black Whale in New Bedford and Joe’s Original in Dartmouth, said, “Both the Black Whale and Joe’s … exceeded prior year [summer] sales and that’s in addition to opening Whale’s Tail [Clam Bar] on the Pier.”
The Whale’s Tail Clam Shack that opened on Pier 3 in June has been incredibly well received, according to Silverstein, and he plans to keep it open as long as the weather allows, probably closing it sometime in October.
Joe’s Original, formerly Not Your Average Joe’s, never had patio seating before, according to Silverstein, and adding 10 picnic tables that have a maximum capacity of six people each has helped business very much.
Other restaurant owners are having similar success with outdoor dining, but as the summer comes to a close they are worried about what will happen in fall and winter.
“Going into winter, our biggest fear is not having outdoor dining space,” said Howie Mallowes, co-owner of Rose Alley, Greasy Luck, and Carmine’s.
Rose Alley added 10 picnic tables that can seat up to 60 people in the alley behind its business. They are in addition to its existing deck seating that seats 24 people and Mallowes said that while liquor, beer, and wine sales are way down, food sales have been helping them out.
Meanwhile, indoor capacity has been reduced from 120 to 24 people to accommodate social distancing requirements,
Going into the winter months, Mallowes said Rose Alley is looking at losing three quarters of its current seating capacity if it can’t operate outside.
“It’s going to be tough to continually stay afloat with that limited amount of seating,” Mallowes said, “We’re trying to come up with some ideas to see if we can enclose the deck but it still might be too cold out there even if it is enclosed.”
DeMelo said that he and his co-owners are hoping they will be able to keep The Airport Grille and Endzone Sports Pub’s outdoor seating open until well into October with heaters, but November remains to be seen.
“I think anybody that owns a restaurant is a little bit worried,” DeMelo said of how restaurants will operate in the winter.
Silverstein said that he’s very worried going into the fall and called the patio a driving force of his business.
The restaurateur has looked into enclosing the Black Whale’s patio with a tent, but current COVID-19 protocols prevent him from closing two sides of the patio and he’s not allowed to put heaters under the tent without hiring a fire safety officer.
“It’s very complicated to keep it warm outside,” Silverstein said.
David Slutz, President of Moby Dick Brewing Company, echoed the sentiments of Silverstein and Mallowes.
“I don’t know how we’re going to block the wind and keep it warm outside,” Slutz said.
The company has bought some heaters, he said.
In addition to losing seating capacity in the winter, Silverstein said he expects that some customers who were comfortable dining outside may not be comfortable dining indoors yet.
Silverstein said in the coming months, his restaurants will work on their take-out models and getting those back up and running and look into adding additional meal periods — like brunch — and different promotions to drive traffic.
DeMelo said they will also focus on take-out and delivery during the winter.
“I think if you put the effort in and promote yourself, I think you can survive,” DeMelo said.
While Moby Dick has had success with outdoor seating — Slutz said the outdoor table are always full — the brew pub plans to maximize their indoor space as best they can and focus on different streams of revenue.
“What helps us too is the beer sales,” Slutz said, “We’re selling so much beer off site now.”
According to Slutz, the company never intended to sell so much beer off site, but with revenue from those sales and indoor and outdoor dining, Slutz said revenue has been similar to pre-COVID-19 numbers.
Even with revenue from beer sales, Slutz said they will push outdoor dining as long as possible and that he believes the city is working to extend outdoor dining permits for restaurants.
While losing outdoor seating won’t have as big an impact on Greasy Luck, which only has four outdoor tables now, the business is being impacted in another way.
Greasy Luck has seen an increase in food sales over the summer, more than double what they were doing the previous year, according to Mallowes, but losing indoor entertainment has been a big hit for the business which also includes The Vault Music Hall.
Mallowes said they have been able to use the music venue space for dining on particularly busy nights and that they’re hopeful that the increase in food sales there will continue into the winter, but that he’s had to lay off employees that used to work the concerts there.
Laid off employees include 15 security personnel, two sound technicians, and other employees that worked to keep the concerts running, according to Mallowes; and local entertainers are also missing out on paid gigs.
The concerts would also keep people at the venue — and spending money — until 2 a.m.
Silverstein estimated with the loss of outdoor seating in the winter months, in addition to the periods restaurants were closed due to COVID-19 mandates, revenue will probably be down 30% at his restaurants from last year.
Restaurants are potentially looking at a rough six months, according to Silverstein.
Slutz said Moby Dick Brewing is going to try to flexible in the coming months.
“We’re optimistic, life’s too short to cry on your beer,” Slutz said, “You know why? It makes the beer taste bad, so we don’t cry on our beer.”