How suburban restaurants plan to extend outdoor dining into fall
With its lake setting and outdoor areas that in past years could have seated 300, the owners of Wauconda's Lindy's Landing have always looked to extend patio season.
But with many people unwilling to dine inside in light of COVID-19, that push has become more important than ever.
"We're obviously doing everything we can to extend the summer at Lindy's," said Laurie Barth, one of the owners. "I think more people will be tolerant of the cooler weather."
Outdoor dining has been a savior for restaurants hurt by the pandemic. It resumed before indoor dining was allowed. Months later, diners still prefer it as a safer option.
That's inspired restaurant owners to get creative to keep patrons at outdoor tables for as long as the weather allows.
Lindy's, for example, has brought in fire pits for the beach. The deck, meanwhile, is covered by a canopy and workers can drop the sides to block the wind. There will be heaters as well.
Owners will offer fire pit packages for small groups and will sell blankets with the restaurant's logo for those who get cold but still want to linger.
Blankets are also on sale at Spears, a Wheeling bar that specializes in bourbon, burgers and beer. About 80 percent of the customers there have opted for outdoor seating, so owner and manager Ashley Hembree began looking at how she could continue that into fall.
Patrons on cooler days and nights will find a tent and a fire pit. In addition, the restaurant will be serving up hot drinks, including spiked hot chocolate.
Diners this summer, Hembree said, prefer eating outdoors.
"We've had people tough out the rain and the wind when it gets chilly," she said. "On that Friday when it was almost 100 degrees, we had a full patio all day."
Nick Drivas has seen that same commitment to outdoor dining at Grill House in Northbrook. He estimated only about 10 percent of his customers opt to eat inside.
This fall, he's setting up additional heaters hoping to stretch the outdoor season through Halloween. And he's offering a free bowl of soup to diners when temperatures dip below 60 degrees.
"It's going to be key to extend it as long as possible," Drivas said of outdoor dining. "It's saved a lot of restaurants from shutting down."
Arlington Heights officials recently agreed to keep the downtown Arlington Alfresco outdoor dining zone in place until Nov. 2 or the first snowfall, whichever comes first. Other areas hope to do the same.
Stelios Mitris took over Butterfield's breakfast eatery in Northbrook in February, a month before the pandemic shutdown. Once outdoor dining was allowed, he started with 16 or 17 outdoor tables. A week later, he added 10 more under canopies.
Mother Nature did not always cooperate. Storms tore the canopies down four times this summer, Mitris said.
Still, he is adding tents and up to 20 heaters to extend outdoor dining even as he stresses the safety precautions he is taking for those who want to eat inside.
Mitris is not sure how long he can keep outdoor dining going, though.
"When we have snow, we cannot offer it," Mitris said. "How can anybody predict the weather in Chicago?"