Now, the cold months are creeping in again, and restaurant owners are once again trying to accommodate customers with a pandemic still raging. Foggy Bottom restaurant owners said they are limiting the inside of their restaurant to half capacity in accordance with D.C. rules and purchasing items like heat lamps and blankets to continue providing outdoor dining during the cooler weather.
“We’re going to make it a comfortable space,” said Omar Masroor, the owner of Bistro Aracosia. “We’re going to do whatever we can, even if it’s snowing outside, so that our guests can sit out there.”
Masroor said his restaurant runs “hospital grade” air purifiers and keeps windows open to ensure customers feel safe eating indoors. For those who want to sit outside, space heaters used to combat temperatures as low as 15 degrees are placed in Bistro Aracosia’s outdoor seating area.
“Guests sit outside in snowstorms, rain, August heat waves and so on. This year, guests will be even more likely to sit outside.”
He said guests are “risking their livelihood” when they decide to go out to eat at a restaurant during the pandemic. He said he anticipates guests will keep coming back when they recognize that Bistro Aracosia staff is following safety protocols and taking measures to ensure guests feel secure.
“We have to make sure that the decision that they made, that they feel comfortable about it once they leave from here, that they feel good about it, that they feel safe about it,” he said.
Tonic owner Jeremy Pollok said customers can expect both outdoor and indoor seating this winter. He said Tonic will install overhead heaters and a tent covering part of the garden area to keep people relatively warm while they eat outside.
Pollok added that the area around Tonic feels like a “ghost town,” so the restaurant staff is trying to find creative ways to encourage customers to dine, even when it’s cold. The restaurant is looking to encourage customers to participate in a BYOB – “bring your own blanket” – to get a discount on a meal.
“Bring your own blanket and get a discount of some sort – we’re still trying to figure out what that is,” he said. “Probably a hot drink. We’re trying to find ways to get people to come out in the colder weather.”
Tonic is also offering several specials and outdoor activities, like outdoor Monday trivia nights, Taco Tuesdays with 99-cent tacos and outdoor movie screenings on Saturdays. This month, Tonic will show Halloween movies on its 15-foot screen, Pollok said.
Duke’s Grocery managing partner Daniel Kramer said the restaurant remains open for indoor and outdoor seating this winter. Customers can choose from three seating areas – an outdoor patio, inside the restaurant and a galleria inside 2000 Penn. Duke’s Grocery will add heaters and tents to the patio to combat winter weather, he said.
“Guests sit outside in snowstorms, rain, August heat waves and so on,” Kramer said. “This year, guests will be even more likely to sit outside.”
The D.C. government is also rolling out the Streatery Winter Ready Grant Program, which provides about $6,000 to D.C. restaurants to help them adapt their outdoor seating to the conditions of the colder weather. Restaurants can use the money to purchase items, like heaters and expand outdoor seating.
GCDC owner Bruce Klores said he plans to expand outdoor seating to sidewalks because few people walk by the restaurant. Klores said restaurant staff will also offer Heatsheets, disposable blankets that reflect body heat, to customers.
“If you run a marathon, or if you’re like a hiker and you want to protect yourself against a cold spell, you’re out in the woods,” he said. “So they have these disposable tin foil wraps that keep your body heat inside, and so we’re going to use those for people, that’s sort of a fun idea anyway, so you can wrap yourself up outside.”
Corey Neamo, Circa Bistros’ D.C. director of operations, said Circa at Foggy Bottom already utilizes a patio with heaters, which will help them continue to offer outdoor seating. He said if customers prefer to eat outside, staff can roll down the patio awning and turning up the heaters so guests can feel comfortable in cooler weather.
Neamo said the restaurant applied for and received money from the Streatery Winter Ready Grant Program and is using the grant money to buy additional heaters for their patio dining area.
He added that dining could “take a dip” in the colder months, depending on customers’ comfort level and the number of COVID-19 cases in the District.
“If we can keep D.C.’s caseload low, I think that’s going to make residents feel a little safer to dine outside for sure,” Neamo said. “Even when it’s a little colder.”