Page 84 - BusinessWest May 12, 2021
P. 84

Sunny Outlook
Outdoor Dining Gives Restaurants Breathing Room
By Joseph Bednar
When COVID-19 arrived 14 months ago, restaurant owners everywhere went into survival mode. Bill Collins was no exception.
Fast-forward to, well, just last week, and the story is a different one.
“We just celebrated our seven-year anniver- sary,” said Collins, owner of Center Square Grill in East Longmeadow, who marked the milestone by donating 10% of the day’s total sales to Shri- ners Hospitals for Children in Springfield. “That’s something we would not have been able to do without outdoor seating.”
“It was a game changer. Really, for us, it put us in a position where we were not just able to squeak by, but to comfortably pay our bills all year, which was a great thing.”
Reliance on al fresco dining — and gratitude for the return of warm spring weather — is a common theme for restaurants across Mas- sachusetts, at least those that had outdoor din- ing space available, or the opportunity to create some.
In Collins’ case, he didn’t even wait for spring to return.
“We’ve had outdoor seating since we opened, but we definitely expanded on that,” he said. “In fact, we spent nearly $20,000 ramping up for the fall, installing greenhouses with electric heat. All winter long, we offered single-use lap blankets for people who came in.”
In doing so, he was able to serve diners at something approaching normal capacity through the cold months, even though interior capacity was still limited by public-health mandates. “It was a game changer. Really, for us, it put us in a position where we were not just able to squeak by, but to comfortably pay our bills all year, which was a great thing.”
Customers appreciate — and usually prefer — the outdoor option, too.
“When the phone rings, 90% of the time, it’s with inquiries to sit outside,” he said. “We took down the greenhouses for the summer but plan to bring them back. People are still talking about the greenhouses. They were a hit for us, and they’ll definitely be back in the fall.”
Munich Haus in Chicopee has long served patrons on a large patio known as the Biergarten, with seating for 150 — well, before physical-dis- tancing rules, anyway — and a 24-seat bar area.
“It’s been great,” owner Patrick Gottschlicht said. “A lot of our customers already knew about it. We didn’t have to put a tent in the parking lot with concrete barriers or anything; we’ve got a fully set-up Biergarten, a true outdoor area. We’ve always said we’ve tried to emulate the experience of sitting in a biergarten in Germany, to make it
Debra Flynn in the alley behind Eastside Grill, which has been transformed into a charming, colorful dining spot.
        as authentic as possible.” At Eastside Grill in
Northampton, owner Debra Flynn has taken several approaches to allowing cus- tomers to eat outdoors. She converted an alley behind the restaurant into a cozy, color- ful space lined with potted plants, colorful murals, and lightbulbs strung above the tables for the evening hours.
This year, while adding even more plants and patio umbrellas to the alley, East- side Grill is one of a handful of restaurants and retailers
set to benefit from Summer on Strong, a city initiative to close a small portion of Strong Avenue to vehicle traffic from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Eastside will be able to seat 32 more customers in
the road, almost doubling its outdoor capacity to 70. Live music outdoors will be a fea- ture on many nights as well.
Keisha Fortin says the outdoor Biergarten has been a critical part of business at Munich Haus during the pandemic, and will continue to be well beyond it.
 Like others we spoke with
— and have been speaking with since restaurants were allowed to partially reopen last spring — Flynn said many folks want to dine out, but still worry about gathering indoors, so outdoor din- ing is critical for business.
“We get calls every single day about it,” she said, noting that she doesn’t take reservations specifically for outdoor seating, but customers can request it and wait for a spot. “I don’t blame them. We want them to be very comfortable, and
if you’re not comfortable inside, we want to make sure we have a table outside.”
Taking to the Streets
The barriers between restaurants and
roadways that were a mainstay in downtown Northampton last summer have been going up
again in preparation
for the outdoor din- Outdoors
ing season. Despite Continued on page 85
  84 MAY 12, 2021
Staff Photo
Staff Photo

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