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'Nobody knows what’s coming': Restaurants that have relied on expanded patio space brace for winter temperatures

The Colorado Restaurant Association is “very concerned” about how restaurants will survive during the winter months.

COLORADO, USA — Expanded restaurant patios have been key to make up for indoor seating regulations during the pandemic, but with winter steadily approaching, restaurants are preparing to adapt once again.

“I’m hoping for a mild winter with a few patio days,” Carboy Winery’s Director of Wine Operations, Jason Snopkoski, told 9NEWS. “Every day is a new challenge.”

Since being able to reopen to dine-in customers, Carboy’s location in Denver has relied on their extended patio that stretches into the sidewalk next to Logan Street.

When the weather cools down, they will have to get creative with indoor seating.

“We’re very lucky that we have a large complex, a large building, lots of space that we reserved for private dining and things like that,” Snopkoski said. “A lot of our friends aren’t that lucky.”

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In July, the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) asked 170 restaurants if they think they will still be open in six months. 65% said they were not sure.

“We’re extremely worried about what winter looks like,” CRA’s President and CEO Sonia Riggs said. “Some restaurants are going to do whatever they can to take advantage of that outdoor seating as long as possible, and others just say they don’t know whether it’s worth it or not.”

Making patios comfortable in cold weather can be expensive for restaurants that do not already have heat lamps and tenting on site. For an industry that’s already cash-strapped, these extra expenses could make or break businesses.

“We’re really hoping that local governments can start using their CARES Act money on helping restaurants with that additional cost to keep those patios open,” Riggs said.

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, to provide economic help in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

9NEWS reached out to the City of Denver about whether they would help restaurants more in the coming months. We did not immediately hear back.

CRA is also talking to the State about how restaurants may be able to allow for more indoor seating while keeping customers safe.

“We’ve been talking to the State about Plexiglas barriers, or other things, to be able to cut that six-foot distancing between tables, and we’ve seen this actually start to be used in other states,” Riggs said. “We’re also looking at how advanced HVAC system technology be used, UV lighting, [so that] capacity could be increased even more.”

9NEWS asked the Colorado State Joint Information Center about this possibility. The agency responded: “We have been closely working with stakeholders from many industries throughout this pandemic, including the Colorado Restaurant Association. We appreciate the commitment and partnership of Colorado’s business community. We will continue to monitor disease transmission and make data-driven decisions that protect public health.”

Credit: Eddie Randle, KUSA

As restaurants wait for a potential update on regulations, CRA is concerned about how different the industry will look in the spring.

“Restaurants may shut down, they may just do takeout and delivery, or they may just try to survive on fewer staff,” Riggs said. “What we already saw this spring is people condensing or limiting their menus, cutting staff, really trying to focus on takeout and delivery models, and they may just try to make do with the limited seating capacity that they have indoors.”

In the beginning of the pandemic, CRA used state sales tax reports to determine that about 400 restaurants closed permanently. They are waiting for updated numbers, but they believe that number is now too low.

RELATED: 250 Denver restaurants approved for outdoor expansion

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