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Article updated: 1/9/2013 9:12 AM

Lake County eateries join winter-friendly patio trend

By Bob Susnjara

At least two Lake County restaurants have become part of what some industry analysts say is a trend to make the most of outdoor patios in the winter.

Beelow's Steakhouse in Lake Zurich and Casa Bonita Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar in downtown Libertyville now have patio tables that are suitable for al fresco dining in chilly or inclement weather. Lake Zurich village board members gave final approval for Beelow's patio setup at a meeting Monday night.

Dan Beelow said his restaurant's patio now has a retractable canopy and removable glass panels on the north and south open walls, along with a fireplace and waterfalls.

Lake Zurich officials struck an agreement that allowed the patio work before the advisory plan commission issued a positive recommendation to the village board in December, so the restaurant could take advantage of the busy holiday seasons. Daniel Peterson, the village's building and zoning director, said the steakhouse would have been forced to immediately remove the glass and other changes if the plan commission had rejected the patio request.

Beelow said more customers want outdoor dining, so the weather-protected patio allows that clientele to be served year round. He said it's a way to maximize his patio investment.

"It's great," he said Tuesday. "Everybody loves it."

Donna Hood Crecca, senior director of Chicago-based Technomic Inc., said the conversion of restaurant patios into winter-friendly places is growing across the country. Technomic conducts studies and produces research on all aspects of the food industry.

"I would say it absolutely is an industry trend," Crecca said.

Patios are part of a restaurateur's real-estate costs, but bring in no revenue during poor weather, Crecca said. Offering diners a chance to enjoy winter on a comfortable outdoor patio is all about trying to separate from the pack in a competitive industry, she added.

"We are seeing a lot of operators seeking creative ways on how they can use their space," Crecca said.

Casa Bonita recently debuted what spokesman Barry Sigale said is an open-air patio that includes shatterproof glass panels with custom-designed stainless steel brackets made by the eatery's owner, Pat Patterson, and two standing and hanging propane-fueled heaters.

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