By SCOTT ELNES
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
It doesn’t take a meteorologist to realize that the seasons are changing.
We’ve been well above normal as of late, but this weekend we’re getting our first real dose of fall.
And you’ve all seen them, the outdoor seating tents around town that have been helping keep local restaurants afloat. But what happens to all of them when the weather really cools off?
“With the changing weather we have had a number of businesses, about 10 downtown, taking advantage of outdoor dining, extended outdoor dining options, over the last really four or five months as we move through summer,” said Ben Hemson, the City of Bend business advocate. “And now we’re working with those businesses that are still interested in pursuing outdoor dining in the winter to make sure they have the right kind of tents, and the right kind of heating, to make sure folks can come downtown and still enjoy a drink or something to eat even when it gets a little colder.”
And it looks like the city is mostly letting restaurants decide how to move forward how they see fit.
“Nothing is required, so it’s a case by case basis. If you’re putting up a tent and a heater of course we’re going to be sending out building inspectors,” Hemson said. “The fire department’s going to help to make sure that interaction with heating and an overhead space is safe, but for other folks is making sure their existing space is still safe.”
Some restaurants are already getting ready, and some, like Melissa Talbott, the assistant general manager of the Deschutes pub downtown tell me they are preferring to “wait and see”.
“Well, the plan is that we really don’t have one. We are kind of flying by the seat of our pants a little bit,” she said. “We’ve talked to some other local restaurants, Bos Taurus and 900 Wall and their plan is to utilize tents and heaters. We have such a big facility here with large seating that you can see, that we just don’t know what we’re going to do. We don’t know if people are going to want to sit outside when it’s really cold an enjoy a meal, so we’re kind of taking it day by day.”
But a quick poll of the locals says that they feel undaunted.
“I don’t think it’s going to slow down my desire at all” says Adam Dupont, “With it getting cold?” asks Chloe Brooks, “Yeah, no. I don’t think so either especially if they do get heaters like you’re saying another place had. I think I’d like to come out and eat outside for sure.”
Which is just more good news for a food scene that actually faired a bit better than expected this summer.
“Certainly when this hit everything looked very dire back in March and April,” Hemson said. “I think summer was a little better than expected for a number of restaurants and businesses at large. Still not great, still not a normal Bend summer, but now we’re heading into another period of uncertainty both in terms of less visitors, changing weather.”
“Summer was actually great,” she said. “Bend was hopping, as you know. We exceeded sales a lot considering that we could only have 100 people in our restaurant including our staff.”
Outdoor seating made up a full 40% of their sales during this warm summer, but with the cold of winter coming, they’d love to see a move toward more indoor seating.
“We are hopeful moving forward that we will get to have a few more bodies in our restaurant because it’s very large,” she said. “You know half of our restaurant is sitting empty, so we would really like to be able to increase it by at least 50 people. That would be a great help for us.”
Dupont reminds us, “We live in Bend and we’re used to the cold weather. This is what we’re going to expect, but also all the restaurants are taking precautions, so we feel comfortable with what they’re doing.”