Renowned Chef Kevin Rathbun will tell you relying on Atlanta’s mild summer weather this year has been a lifeline for him during COVID. “Patio seating, along with takeout and curbside, has really helped us survive this summer,” says Rathbun, “We’re at about 50 percent capacity inside the dining room, and can seat at least 60 outside at the steakhouse, and 40 at the steak bar, so we’re thankful for the patio option.”
A number of restaurants have shuttered, and most are still losing money, barely making rent, and winter is coming. With the number of COVID cases in Georgia still among the highest in the US, restaurateurs are nervous. When temps dip into the 50’s and below, Atlantans will head inside or stay home.
Rathbun is worried about the colder temps and plans to invest in new heaters and wind barriers to maintain his outdoor seating. “I’m also watching every penny, doing in-home dinner parties and online cooking classes via Zoom,” adds Rathbun, “We’ve also started booking holiday parties, not the big corporate ones, but small business and family events.”
Justin Anthony of True Story Brands, parent company of 10 Degrees South, Biltong Bar and Yebo Beach Haus, invested in nano doors during the five month closure of 10 Degrees South. “The doors are a great solution for us for COVID, and we now open the doors every night for service,” says Anthony, “We hope to be able to attract more diners by having the doors open with a real alfresco dining experience.” The 180-seat South African restaurant is now limited to 100 seats between the dining room and the patio, so heaters have been added in the ceiling of the patio.
Due to the overwhelming challenges facing the restaurant industry, many establishments will be forced to close, but there will also be survivors. Always looking for ways to navigate these troubling times, restaurateur Hicham Azhari says it’s important to educate yourself and keep up with technology.
“I’m continuously looking for new ways to decrease expenses, other than laying off staff,” says Azhari, co-owner of Little Alley Steak in Buckhead, “so we’ve digitized purchasing, a process that manually used to take hours, is now done in minutes with a smartphone and the new app Skilletworks.” The app, designed and developed by the restaurant industry, streamlines food and beverage purchasing and is linked to the accounting system, saving managers time and money.
Home Depot has seen a 79% increase in searches for patio heaters in the past five weeks compared to the same time last year. And Amazon says sales of outdoor heaters have jumped 70% from April to June. Azhari says his giant heaters keep guests warm, sometimes as soon as October at his restaurants, and customers come early hoping to land one of the coveted outdoor seats. Winter is coming…and these Buckhead restaurateurs say…bring it.