Restaurants set up outdoor tents to expand dining capacity as winter sets in
DILLON — The idea to expand a restaurant’s footprint by setting up outdoor tents is growing in popularity as restaurants find creative ways to serve guests amid COVID-19 restrictions.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released guidance on temporary structures like tents, classifying them as an outdoor setting only if two nonadjacent sides are open or if the structure is for a single party and will allow for ventilation between uses. If the structure is not classified as an outdoor setting, the business will have to follow indoor capacity limits.
The town of Breckenridge has issued nine development permits for restaurant businesses to set up outdoor tents. Breckenridge planner Chapin LaChance said having a certain number of sides open hasn’t come up as an issue in working with restaurants on their development permits for outdoor structures.
“Some businesses are leaning toward doing smaller tents or smaller structures that would just host one party so that they can have four sides and keep the space heated, and then they’re just airing it out in between seatings,” LaChance said. “Some businesses are starting to realize that’s probably a better use of space.”
With the county’s current indoor capacity limits of 25%, these structures are very limited if business owners want to host more than one party and keep four “walls” up, LaChance said. While the state guidelines don’t specify how long a structure must be ventilated between uses, LaChance said Summit County Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott has said in informal conversations that five minutes should be sufficient.
In addition to the nine development permits already issued to restaurants — including Kenosha Breck, Bangkok Happy Bowl and Breckenridge Tap House — LaChance also has received calls from additional businesses that are considering the option of outdoor structures.
In Silverthorne, Sauce on the Blue has set up four yurt structures that will be available for customers starting this weekend. Sauce on the Blue managing partner and owner Tim Applegate said the yurt setups will offer high-end experiences for single parties. The yurts will be insulated and will each have their own electric heating units. There is also a dome in the top of the structures that can open up for ventilation between uses.
The yurts will each have their own theme, such as a ski theme or animal theme, and will be decorated with antique chandeliers. They are also handicap accessible. Applegate said seating inside the yurts will be reservation-based for groups of five or six for about a two-hour dining experience. At this point, seating inside the yurts will be accessed by a regular reservation, but Applegate said there might be set minimums for meals in the yurts during the holidays.
“We’re down to 25% now, so we need to try to figure something out so that we can get some kind of revenue back into the restaurant,” Applegate said.
Applegate said the writing was on the wall in March that restaurants were going to have to be innovative, which is when he started looking into the yurt idea. With the restaurant currently limited to 25% indoor capacity, the yurts will add four tables and 24 additional seats. Applegate said putting a party in its own room away from other restaurant clients might make people more comfortable than they would be in the restaurant.
While the yurts are being introduced in the time of COVID-19, Applegate said they will be up on the patio every winter going forward to serve as a unique winter restaurant experience. The yurts aren’t cheap — over $15,000 each — but Applegate thinks the investment is well worth it to give people a different and more comfortable experience.
“Hopefully, it’s some kind of normalcy for people this winter that they can sit outside with their family,” Applegate said.
The restaurant is in the process of applying for the Colorado Restaurant Foundation’s Colorado Outdoor Winter Dining Grant Program, which provides funding for restaurants to maintain outdoor dining spaces.
Breckenridge Brewery is using a large outdoor tent as a waiting area for people picking up to-go orders and those waiting for reservations, Head Brewer Jimmy Walker said. The tent also serves as an apres beer spot with a server who will take drink orders. While there will be heaters in the tent, there also will be airflow because more than one party will be in the tent at a time. Only 15 people are allowed inside the tent, which Walker said will open in the next few days.
While the tent won’t be as warm as inside the restaurant due to air ventilation, Walker said those who come for the apres experience likely will be outfitted in ski gear already. He added that some food might be available in the tent, but the main idea is apres service and to have a place for people who are waiting for their table.
The tent is just one way Breckenridge Brewery is trying to adapt. The restaurant is also adding breakfast service and its own delivery service, Walker said. The brewery will offer family-style meals for delivery and will continue to-go service of its regular menu with designated parking for pickup orders.
“We’re just trying to hang in there and make it through the winter,” Walker said. “Hopefully next spring, summer we’ll be back in action, better than ever. We’re planning on bringing the beer garden back that we got this summer, but if we could have the beer garden and 100% open, we definitely could make up for some lost revenue.”
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