Since coronavirus-related mandates shut down a lot of indoor dining, restaurants across the nation have turned sidewalks into pop-up dining rooms. New York City has granted outdoor permits to roughly 9,500 restaurants; 1,000 restaurants have received a license through San Francisco’s Shared Spaces program; Chicago has provided permits to hundreds more through its Expanded Outdoor Dining Program.
As the days get chillier, these outdoor eating spaces will likely require heating units to keep diners returning—which is why there’s been a sudden surge in demand for propane-powered outdoor heaters that can keep people warm while they dine al fresco.
Dan Munger is the director of sales for DMC Facility Services, a New Jersey-based company that manages facilities for local restaurants. In an interview with Maker, he revealed that he started getting orders for portable heaters in July. “I’ve had almost 75% more calls about heaters than last year,” he told Maker. “With the restrictions, [restaurants] are all trying to maximize their hours of service.”
Market research outlet Freedonia Group predicted a considerable boost in demand for the outdoor space heaters in a report published in March of this year. According to the New York Times, Wayfair has seen a 70% increase in searches for patio heaters in the past five weeks compared to last year. Amazon has also reported that outdoor heater sales have increased by nearly 70% from April to June compared with the same time in 2019.
Some heater manufacturers are having trouble keeping up with this demand, mostly because strains on supply chains due to the coronavirus have made international shipping more challenging. “We’re ordering as much as possible,” Josh Rookstool, the director of sales for Sunheat outdoor heaters, told Maker. “However, there are still major backups in production.” (The Nebraska-based company has seen a 400% increase in sales this year on patio heaters and fire pits.)
What does this mean for you and your favorite local dinner spot?
Well, depending on where you live, there’s a decent chance that your favorite local restaurants may be in serious trouble if they can’t get their hands on some outdoor heaters before cooler weather starts. COVID-related mandates have made outdoor dining so critical in keeping small, independent restaurants alive during the past few months. Unless the supply of outdoor space heaters can meet the sudden surge in demand, many restaurants might have no other choice but to close for good.
For more on the future of outdoor dining, check out 5 New Things You Can Expect to See in Most Restaurants This Fall.
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