Local restaurants get creative with heated igloos to expand patio season and stop revenue freeze during colder months

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Posted at 7:53 AM, Oct 05, 2020

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — This summer, Ohio restaurants expanded their outdoor seating to accommodate physical distancing during the pandemic and help maintain the number of people able to be served.

But as fall and winter approach, many are worried the colder months will put a freeze on revenue because outside dining and Northeast Ohio winters aren't exactly the best pairing.

However, some local restaurants have found a cozy workaround.

The Rustic Grill at Stonewater in Highland Heights is using heated and lighted PVC igloos for outdoor dining this fall and winter.

The private domes encapsulate a table that fits six to eight people. The general manager says servers will wear masks and the domes will be sanitized between each party.

Out west in Lakewood, Georgetown and Vosh have had them for a couple years, and this year they've added a fifth igloo.

Gardenigloo USA is the company that sells the PVC domes that retail for $1,149. They are made in Germany and Turkey, according to the company representative, John Susel.

He says the garden igloo was first designed for backyard use, but slowly became more popular with restaurants in 2018 and the number of restaurants now using them has increased exponentially.

He says business is up 200-300% this year because of the pandemic.

Due to the high demand, Susel says right now the igloos are out of stock, but orders can still be placed, and inventory should be restored within the next month.

"First thing's first and you have to get a handle on the revenue," said Matt Vannini, president of Restaurant Solutions Inc., a restaurant consulting and accounting firm that's helping eateries stay open during the pandemic.

"Our operators, once we determine what the max capacity revenue is by seat, then we can start to look at the outside and see if heaters or igloos make sense," he said.

Vannini says right now, successful restaurants are catering to their loyal guests and focusing on their menu all-stars.

"There is a true partnership between the guest and the restaurant, and that partnership is what's going to carry these restaurants through," he said.

The igloos at Rustic Grill opened for dining Oct. 1. The restaurant says you can rent them for two hours, and there is a minimum you must spend on Friday and Saturday nights.

Vannini says one of the best things we can do as patrons right now to support our favorite restaurants is practice patience and kindness when ordering and leave positive reviews about how well they're operating during the pandemic and how safe they made you feel.

Also, he said, be patient and kind with the staff. Restaurants are working under different rules and stressful conditions.

"Think about the fact that this person's livelihood is in jeopardy and you're doing such a magnificent job by choosing them and helping them," said Vannini.

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