NEW YORK – As the restaurant industry in New York City has been trying to navigate the pandemic and all the rules and regulations for reopening after the lockdown, cooler temperatures are now complicating matters for outdoor dining as the guidelines for using propane heaters “have not come through yet” many owners have said, Eater New York reported on October 9.
“Previously forbidden in NYC due to safety concerns, city officials announced last month that they would allow the use of propane heaters for sidewalk eating with outdoor dining now a permanent fixture in the city, and indoor dining returning at limited capacity,” Eater reported, adding that “the city was set to release the guidelines for the heaters — which also require a permit from the FDNY — at the end of last month. But two weeks into October, and with each day getting colder than the next, restaurateurs say they are frustrated with the city for the lack of clarity.”
Restaurant owners also noted that there is a shortage of heaters and their prices have spiked, adding to the challenges they are facing.
“A spokesperson for City Hall did not provide a date but says the guidelines will be ‘out soon,’” Eater reported, adding that “regardless, restaurant owners are forging ahead, hoping for the best, but bracing for prolonged confusion.”
While diners may be planning on bundling up for outdoor dining al fresco in the colder months ahead, many restaurant owners have been planning ahead, “working around the clock to get propane heaters and have them ready to go as soon as the city gives them the green light,” Eater reported.
Joe Ragonese, director of operations at Flatiron Greek restaurant Kyma and Upper East Side Greek eatery Elea, has “been preparing for months,” Eater reported.
Ragonese told Eater, “I was being proactive by purchasing the propane heaters in July, from what I was hearing I saw outdoor dining going into winter and hoped they would legalize propane. The worst-case scenario would be we would use them on our patios at home.”
“He ordered 12 for the two restaurants, along with electric heaters as a backup in case propane remained off the table,” Eater reported.
Others who did not plan for the colder weather, “are now struggling to get their hands on the propane heaters,” Eater reported.
“I ordered six for $150 each but only two arrived,” said Enrico Proietti, whose Upper East Side restaurant Bella Blu has set up “a tented area that is packed every night,” Eater reported, adding that “he ended up finding four additional heaters on Amazon, but says the prices just keep going up.”
“The restaurant now has six heaters, which he thinks should keep things going at least until November 1, when many restaurateurs hope that the indoor dining capacity will expand to 50 percent,” Eater reported.
With most restaurant finances already tight, the expense of propane heaters may put them out of reach for struggling establishments. Ragonese told Eater that “on his most recent attempt to purchase the propane heaters, they were not available until December and were priced as high as $700 each.”
Roni Mazumdar who owns Indian restaurant Adda in Long Island City and three eateries in downtown Manhattan told Eater, “It’s not a surprise that cold weather is coming. Because of the lack of planning by the city we are spending so much time chasing our tails.”
He added that “this is similar to the situation with tents and barriers — many restaurant owners purchased them only to find they didn’t meet guidelines when they were finally issued,” Eater reported.
Mazumdar told Eater, “What very few understand is the amount of impact this has on a business. I would love for one city official to run a restaurant for a day.”