Restaurant demand for patio heaters during coronavirus pandemic could lead to shortage

Jeanette Settembre
·3 min read

Demand for heat lamps is getting hot in the dog days of summer as restaurant owners prepare for cooler months during COVID-19.

"It's everybody throughout the tri-state -- New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania -- we're seeing an uptick in calls for rental and portable mobile heaters," Dan Munger, director of business development for New Jersey-based DMC Facility Services that works with thousands of restaurants in the Northeast, told FOX Business Friday.

"Some restaurant owners are wanting to put up some lights and heaters to extend the dining season and going out of their way to get them from rental companies," Munger, who says the company has gotten three times more inquiries for outdoor heat lamps this year compared to last, explained.

Among shortages of hand sanitizer, laptops, desks, swimming pools and other items as a result of COVID-19, outdoor heating lamps are the latest commodity consumers are wanting to stock up on before the mercury drops.

Online furniture retailer Wayfair said searches for patio heaters jumped by more than 70 percent compared to this time in previous years, while user searches for outdoor fire pits increased by 60%. Amazon also reportedly increased its outdoor heater sales by close to 70% from April to June compared with the same time last year, according to Maker. And Overstock.com said outdoor furniture sales including outdoor heat lamps surged 225% year-over-year.

The demand is also big for the hospitality industry, with indoor dining still restricted in some parts of the country. As a result, some restaurant owners are left grappling with how to generate revenue when the weather cools with the inability to have outdoor seating, particularly restaurateurs based in cities like New York, D.C. and Chicago. And even those that are able to have outdoor seating, the cost of electricity to run the heat lamps to cover in some cases less than a dozen tables isn’t worth it.

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“Electric heat lamps are incredibly expensive. We’re all working on negative margins to begin with. I’m not concerned with availability I’m more concerned about viability,” Jeffrey Bank, a New York City-based CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group which runs restaurants like Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real Barbecue, said.

Others who may consider buying them aren’t able to because of city restrictions.

“The city does not allow electricity to be connected to outdoor dining in a privately owned Public Plaza so heat lamps are not an option for us,” Hakan Swahn, owner of Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York City’s Midtown neighborhood said.

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But even if he were he says it's still not a better alternative to indoor dining in the age of COVID-19 because to keep customers warm he’d have to put up tents which would essentially create an enclosed dining experience defying social distancing guidelines.

“To properly distance guests in the actual indoor dining room seems like a much more comfortable option without jeopardizing the safety of the diner and the staff. Heating outdoor spaces will not be a viable option for restaurants,” he said.

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