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Outdoor spaces prove a boon for restaurants

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, the patio season would normally be winding down for restaurants and bars in the region. Normally doesn’t apply this year, however.

The City of Waterloo, for instance, this week cleared the way for patios to remain open until the snow flies, a recognition that outdoor spaces have been the only bright spot in what has been a tough year for the hospitality industry.

Inclement weather is expected to slow the revenue stream patios provided, but some operations will try to make adjustments.

In Elmira, the township closed off a portion of Mill Street downtown to allow for patio space, some of it used by the Sip ‘N Bite Restaurant. That location joined the closed alleyway adjacent to the Kitchen Kuttings Café. Both those area’s are slated to be reopened to traffic by month’s end.

In St. Jacobs, The Village Biergarten was quick to make use of patio space when Region of Waterloo health officials gave approval to that option.

“I think it was announced on Tuesday, and we opened on Thursday or Friday. It was a very quick process to kind of try to get things up and running as fast as we could,” said co-founder/owner Derek Lebert of the outdoor-dining option.

Its large patio made the location a prime spot as the province moved ahead with the reopening of the economy.

“We have one of the larger patios in Waterloo Region, and the ability to space-out seats,” said Lebert of the option to reopen within public health guidelines.

The reopening was met with a strong turnout, which he attributes to people’s desire to socialize again following the COVID-19 lockdown.

With the weather changing, the business has invested in a new way to keep the patio season alive.

“A few months ago, we were kind of doing some research because the inside portion of our restaurant would only be able to hold about 10 to 15 people if we follow all the space requirements for COVID. So, we’re looking at ways where we could extend our patio season,” he explained.

Domes that look like mini-greenhouses came as viable options to meet the heating and spacing capacities that health regulations and the weather require. Heaters are an option for short stays outside, but some kind of enclosure is needed to retain heat and allow people to remain comfortable as they dine, Lebert added.

The domes are common in European countries, as well as in parts of the U.S. with colder climates. It took some planning and preparation, but now there are four domes set up at The Village Biergarten.

Space can be booked by reservations only as of this week.

“I had one set up in my backyard for all of the summer, just trying to play around with how we wanted to light it, get the seating right in there and make sure the size was appropriate for the number of people.”

Reservations are time slotted for an hour and 45 minutes, with 15 minutes being used for sanitation of the dome. Reception to the new patio option has been overwhelming, said Lebert, with the team now booking three weeks in advance and having their social media flooded with its highest number of interactions.

Four more domes are coming to the property within the next week or two, and six more domes that have been placed on reserve.

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