As the weather cools and concerns over the spread of COVID-19 rise, local restaurants are working hard to provide patrons with a safe dining experience. Some restaurants have done this by adding tents and heating units to their outdoor seating.
One popular spot in Bloomington that has recently added an outdoor heater is the Owlery downtown Sadie Clarke, a manager for the Owlery, said outdoor seating has been popular and she does not think that trend will stop with colder weather.
“People have been utilizing outdoor seating, and I think they would like to continue,” Clarke said. “I do think the heaters will make a difference on some of the days.”
Though the Owlery is hopeful outdoor seating will stay popular in the winter, the heated tents at Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Avenue have been popular at times.
Pete Mikolaitis, a general manager at Nick’s, said the tents do better on sunny days.
“The tents were very popular when it was warmer,” Mikolaitis said. “We did put heaters out there, but with the weather being rainy and cold they haven’t been as popular. It’s been hit or miss.”
However, Mikolaitis said IU’s home football game days have brought in business regardless of weather.
“The IU games have been a tremendous help to us so far from what we’ve seen,” Mikolaitis said. “We’re just doing our best to try to balance the line between creating revenue and creating a safe environment for people to come out.”
Another popular addition to Kirkwood’s outdoor eating options has been Uptown Cafe’s igloos, which are self-enclosed pods for a small party to dine in.
Oualelaye Ouedraogo, a manager at Uptown Cafe on Kirkwood Avenue said Uptown Cafe wanted to think outside the box.
“A lot of people don’t want to be inside because of the pandemic, so we decided to think of something new,” Ouedraogo said. “The igloos are a European thing, and we thought we could do something to give people their privacy and outdoor seating.”
Because there are only two igloos and they need to be cleaned the same as any other enclosed space, guests need to call ahead to reserve a time slot in order to dine in them.
“You do have to call and make a reservation so that we are able to clean it, and we usually give people about two hours,” Ouedraogo said. “You can fit 6 to 8 people in there.”
Ouedraogo said the igloos are extremely popular, leaving many of their reservation times booked.
“I feel like in Bloomington, a lot of people did not know about things like the igloos, and so everybody has been talking about it,” Ouedraogo said. “Every night it’s been booked, and mostly every day it’s been booked, too. People are loving it.”
Ultimately, though, the pandemic has been hard on local businesses, Mikolaitis said. Mikolaitis said he is thankful Nick's has stayed in business.
“Nick’s has been fortunate to keep its doors open, and I know that’s not the case with some other local restaurants,” Mikolaitis said. “It’s been difficult to do and there’s not really a playbook to follow, but we’ve been learning as we go along.”