Restaurants Adding Heat, Tent Sides to Extend Outdoor Dining Season

Outdoor seating has been a lifeline for those restaurants lucky enough to have an ample parking lot, a courtyard or sidewalk space nearby. The Town of Huntington relaxed its rules for outdoor seating, the weather has been largely dry and pleasant, and any restaurant that could welcomed outdoor diners all summer long.

But the season has changed, and outdoor seating – which helped restaurants survive when indoor dining wasn’t allowed and has provided a necessary supplement to revenue now that indoor capacity is capped at 50 percent – is threatening to go away. No matter, restaurant owners throughout Huntington say. They’ll just add heaters and tents with sides.

When outdoor dining was first allowed in June, Vespa Italian Chop House erected large tents with seating for about 110 patrons in its parking lot on Fort Salonga Road in Northport. With the weather turning chillier, the restaurant recently added siding to the tents.

“I also have a heating system that is going to heat up the tents completely,” said General Manager Mike LoManto.

LoManto also plans to add another tent to connect the outdoor tents to the restaurant building.

“It will be one grand space,” he said.

With this action, LoManto figures about 10 outdoor seats will be lost, leaving about 100 seats outside. Vespa has an indoor capacity of about 200 and since it can only use half those seats, the outdoor seating has allowed the restaurant to keep its capacity at roughly the same.

Also on Fort Salonga Road in Northport, Robke’s has already put a heating system in place in its tent, which has been drawing diners to its parking lot all summer.

“It’s a big fancy heater – it’s very comfortable and warm in the tent,” which now also has sides, said Manager Louie Sel, who hopes to keep the outdoor seating going until at least November 1, and perhaps beyond.

As it gets colder, “we may reduce the size of the outdoor space – we’ll make it smaller and warmer,” Sel said, noting the current outdoor seating capacity of “about 50 to 60” may drop to “30 or 40.” Robke’s typically has seating for about 75 patrons inside, Sel added.

But while diners have embraced outdoor dining, will they be as enthusiastic about indoor dining?

LoManto said they already are.

“We’ve been filling our indoor dining to the 50 percent capacity,” LoManto said. “People are very interested in indoor dining. As time is going on they’re getting more comfortable. I think they want to move on with their lives.”

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