Al fresco winter dining: Restaurants and bars get creative to accommodate customers
Typically, December wouldn’t fare well for outdoor dining in Summit County, but the unseasonably warm weather has made it possible for several restaurants and bars with food service.
Indoor dining is closed in counties under level red restrictions, including Summit, but the state gave restaurants the option to stay open for outdoor dining in addition to takeout and delivery.
Columbine Cafe has put tables in its courtyard, where customers can sit and eat. Owner Robert Simonton explained that while there isn’t service to the tables, the cafe is still doing takeout. So a customer can order food to go, and then eat it outside.
“That’s the one main problem we have up here. … A lot of people have been trying to figure out where to sit and eat,” Simonton said. “It’s been a lot of tourists up here right now, so they’re still trying to figure out what to do.”
Simonton said the takeout business has been slow, but once the tables were put out, Columbine Cafe has seen its numbers increase. However, Simonton said he doesn’t think a lot of people know which restaurants are open. He said people are wearing ski gear or winter outerwear when they come to get takeout, which makes winter outdoor dining easier. He said he plans to put some heaters out as it gets colder, as well.
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Rising Sun Distillery owner Dawn Richardson said having no capacity indoors has been difficult but that outdoor dining is the only thing moving her business along aside from a small amount of to-go orders. She said outdoor seating has been a tough sell because it’s December and it gets especially chilly after the sun goes down.
To make things more comfortable and cozy for people, the distillery has put a windscreen around the patio, placed a fire pit in the outdoor seating area and is bringing in more fire pits and heaters this week. If the fire pits become popular, Richardson said she’ll order more.
Rising Sun’s Frisco tasting room opened in August, and Richardson said the distillery is having a rough go with the new restrictions cutting down staff hours. But if there is going to be a shutdown of indoor dining, she said it’s better to have it during the offseason than peak season. She hopes the county can reopen indoor dining by then.
“I’m really worried about my staff,” Richardson said. “I want them to be able to sustain this and be able to stay in the county and be able to continue to live their lives, but it’s really hard on them. Those fire (pits next to) tables are everything for us right now. And then we’ve increased some retail, so we have baskets and cocktail kits and merchandise and things like that. We have to-go cocktails. We’re doing everything we can think of to try to save ourselves.”
Richardson said the bulk of the outdoor diners come in the early evening before it gets too cold. She said she feels the county is in a Catch-22, where they want to do what’s best for the community but also want to keep businesses alive. She said it’s been difficult for businesses like hers, which have worked hard to create a safe place for people to drink and dine, to be shut down again.
Ein Prosit also has used outdoor dining on Frisco’s Main Street, especially during the daylight hours.
“It’s been very popular because the weather has been so mild; that’s helped a lot,” owner Scott Pohlman said. “This is one of the most mild Novembers and Decembers I’ve seen in 30 years up here.”
Prosit’s Main Street location is a cool place to sit outside, Pohlman said about opening outdoor dining. He said a lot of people come dressed in ski clothes after skiing at Copper Mountain Resort. Prosit has had heaters on the patio for the past few winters, which set them up for providing an open air, outdoor dining experience during the pandemic.
Every afternoon from about 2 p.m. to sundown has been a popular time for people to sit on Prosit’s patio, Pohlman said. In total, about 24 outdoor seats are available at Prosit, and the chairs have been mostly full in the afternoons, especially on the weekends.
“We tried the last couple of years to do the ‘wintergarden,’ winter beer garden thing, and we did have these heaters, but it didn’t really take off,” Pohlman said. “People are a lot more willing this year because there’s no other option.”
Pohlman said he’s excited to get people back indoors when it’s feasible. He added that many visitors don’t know that indoor dining is closed in Summit County and have taken their anger out on Pohlman and his staff.
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