- Hurricane Isaias, which hit the East Coast during the first week of August, dipped restaurant sales along the East Coast by 11%. Connecticut (-24%), New Jersey (-17%), New York (-17%), Massachusetts (-13%) and Rhode Island (-12%) were the hardest hit states, according to new data from Upserve.
- Sales declines were due to restaurants losing power and the ability to host outdoor dining service. Fast casual restaurants were largely insulated, however, with a 17% increase in sales from the week prior. All other segments were down.
- Restaurants made a strong comeback the week after Isaias passed, however, posting their best post-COVID-19 sales day nationwide on Aug. 8.
The double-digit loss of sales during a hurricane could forecast how winter weather will affect restaurants that have become increasingly reliant on outdoor seating to circumvent continued dining room closures and capacity limits. Months long of cold weather could have an even more dramatic impact on restaurants.
Restaurant owners are scrambling to prepare for the upcoming season under the assumption that dining room capacity may still not be at 100%. Chicago hosted a Winter Design Challenge, tasking participants with coming up with creative solutions for winter outdoor dining, for example. Milwaukee restaurants took over sidewalks or streets for dining as part of the city's Active Streets for Business program. For winter, some of these restaurants plan to partially enclose some of those outdoor areas and add heaters.
New York City has recommendations from the Department of Buildings on what type of heaters are acceptable, and sidewalk dining operations need to be approved by the fire department. However, as one operator told SILive.com, "It is not difficult to winterize a tent ... but it is not cheap."
Further compounding this issue is the fact that winter tends to be slower for restaurants and many of them, particularly in colder states, use their summer profits to help get through those winter sales dips. That luxury likely doesn't exist this year as restaurants struggled to stay afloat in the summer, let alone thrive. Add the procurement costs of heaters, enclosures and additional patio furniture makes things even more challenging. One Washington, D.C. restaurant, for example, estimates spending about $30,000 throughout the past four years to be more usable in all types of weather.
Because of these added costs on top of an existing crisis, some trade associations are asking for more help. Colorado Restaurant Association President and CEO Sonia Riggs said she hopes local governments start using their Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money to help restaurants with some of these additional winter costs. Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association is pushing for a tax credit to provide some relief.
Some type of solution is needed, particularly as 100% dining room capacity remains unattainable in many locations and as predictions of a second wave of novel coronavirus abound. Many restaurants have stayed afloat just from being able to offer that temporary outdoor seating option and if that option goes away, so does a major lifeline.