5 Ways to “Winterize” Restaurant Operations in the Midst of COVID

Winter is coming - Here are five innovative and safe solutions for off-premise service this winter.

November 2, 2020


Outdoor dining has become a defining aspect of “the new normal” when it comes to dining out. However, as temperatures drop and the days get shorter and shorter, operators will need to get creative and think outside of the box when it comes to providing on-premise dining. We’re here to help you navigate the coming months by offering five innovative and safe solutions and additions to your current operation:


Increase happy hour offerings:

While it is very likely that many people will adhere to the traditional winter practice of eating meals indoors in the coming months (while adhering to COVID safety regulations, of course), there is a strong chance that more weary individuals will still prefer outdoor dining to ensure maximum safety. However, with the days getting shorter and temperatures falling, customers will have to pretty significantly alter their eating schedules to be more in line with earlier sunset times. The time normally reserved for happy hour, think 3:30-5:00PM, could very well become the new early dinner experience. Consider adding more substantial, entree-like dishes to your happy hour menu, or push both your happy hour and dinner periods forward altogether. After all, it is 2020. Starting happy hour at 2 in the afternoon is absolutely acceptable.


Add insulated dining bubbles:

Maybe you’ve seen photos of massive plastic bubble looking things popping up all over the streets of places like NYC and Chicago, where temperatures have already begun to drop, or maybe you haven’t. Either way, we’re here to catch you up. So what exactly are these things? Well, they are mostly referred to as simply, pop-up bubble tents, and their intended use is to be a private, transportable gazebo for individual or commercial use that provides shelter from the elements. The plastic can be zipped up on all sides to maximize insulation, but compromises air circulation. There are multiple different sizes (10×10 ft or 15×15 ft), but most cities cap occupancy within each individual tent at 6 people, regardless of size. So far, operators who have adopted this funky practice have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers. Not only does it enhance feelings of COVID safety by providing a physical barrier between parties, but customers appreciate the novelty and quirkiness of it and are more than happy to participate in something new and Instagrammable. If you are considering investing in these bubbles, we suggest you read more here.


Consider investing in an automated curbside service:

This is a given, and you probably saw this coming. But we truly do believe in the power of our service to bolster your operation and reach your hard-earned customers in a safe, convenient way. And, not to mention, when it’s cold and raining, what’s better for a customer than having their warm meal brought out right to their car?! We think nothing. But don’t take it from us: even as indoor dining restrictions continue to ease in many parts of the country, customers are still exhibiting strong preferential behavior towards off-premise dining, specifically through curbside, and drive-through, when available. According to research published by Technmoic in late September of this year, “68% percent of consumers have visited the drive-thru; 63% have ordered takeout; 48% have ordered curbside pickup; 45% have ordered third-party delivery; and 45% have ordered direct delivery. Comparatively, 41% of consumers say they have dined indoors and 38% said they have eaten at a restaurant outdoors.


Of course, we would all like to see consumer behavior reflect an inclination towards  traditional, on-premise dining again, but for the time being, off-premise dining is king. If you’re looking to partner with an automated curbside service powered by geo-fencing technology,  visit www.swipe.by for more details on products, pricing, marketing resources, and more, or contact sales@swipe.by to speak to a human. 


Add outdoor heating lamps/fireplaces and offer blankets:

Outdoor heating lamps are great because they are easily transportable, versatile, and most importantly, safe. They aren’t hot to the touch, so your staff can handle and maneuver around them safely, and they can be placed right next to your guests’ table as they dine. And, of course, they provide heat for your customers so that they are comfortable during their dining experience. Make sure to disperse the lamps as evenly as possible to ensure equal heat distribution. 


The addition of a fireplace to your outdoor dining area will also be a big hit with your guests. It’s an unconventional dining setup that facilitates comfort, warmth and proximal closeness that people with more intimate relationships will surely appreciate. The warm, dazzling light of the fire also makes for a stellar photo opportunity. 


Finally, because heating lamps and/or outdoor fire pits are a bit of an investment, you can also consider providing blankets for customers as they dine. It’s a fun way to ensure your guests are comfortable, and they’ll likely remember feeling so cozy all wrapped up in a blanket as they enjoy their delicious meal at your restaurant. Given COVID safety regulations, there are certainly sanitary considerations with this addition, but nothing that can’t be solved with finding a good, reliable laundry partner. Or, implement a derivative of the BYOB policy and encourage guests to bring their own blankets! Again, it’s 2020, and anything goes. Even cheesy puns.


Add warm, seasonal dishes and drink specials to menu:

If you’re going to continue to provide outdoor dining accommodations, make sure you support this choice with strategic menu choices. AKA, focus primarily on refining and perfecting your most comforting, warming, wholesome, “hug-on-a-plate” dishes. Afterall, who wouldn’t love a nice, warm plate of pasta or a hot toddy on a cold, winter day? To get you started on possible menu additions, we’ve provided a few links for you to peruse:


Navigating outdoor dining in the winter certainly presents a unique set of challenges for operators, but it is also an opportunity. An opportunity to capitalize on a new dining trend and show your customers just how creative, innovative, and resilient you are. 


~ Kathryn Bower

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