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Restaurants explore outdoor accommodation ideas during Covid-19


Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases are on the rise in New Hampshire and the cold weather is taking away the option of outdoor seating for local restaurants. A possible solution? Outdoor dining igloos. 

Plastic heated igloos are an option for restaurants that want more seating but still want to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 safety guidelines. Gardenigloo USA, advertises the igloos in the scope of commercial and household options. The outdoor dining igloo is described on the site as “an aesthetic approach to social distancing,” and a way to “gain and take advantage of more surface area for your business.” This could potentially be helpful to restaurants that are losing out on too much seating. The site lists a number of locations in cities all over the country that are using the Gardenigloo (Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City and more) and the running price for a single one is $1,500. 

Restaurants have less available seating overall due to the necessary social distancing guidelines: the CDC still recommends limiting parties to groups of six, and requires that tables be socially distanced from each other. Soon, local restaurants will be unable to offer outside seating if they cannot use outdoor heaters, and will have to depend on a reduced capacity for business in order to keep people safe. The winter season is coming fast, and many restaurants that depended on outdoor seating are going to be losing out on that option in the coming weeks. While Portsmouth, N.H. still has special accommodations for outdoor seating (tables set up along Market Street, for example, in what would typically be parking spaces), the weather won’t be kind enough for that option to remain throughout the winter. 

The Galley Hatch in Hampton, N.H. has launched their two igloos in an effort to combat these issues. According to Max Sullivan’s Seacoast online article, the first igloo has bookings through Christmas Eve. The Galley Hatch website says the igloos are “heated for warmth and vented for proper air circulation.” They are thoroughly cleaned in between reservations, and there is a food and drink minimum ($100-150 for lunch, $200 for dinner) as well as a reservation requirement of up to six people per igloo – staying true to CDC guidelines. They also have plans to add igloos to other restaurants that they own along the Seacoast, per WMUR. The Galley Hatch is temporarily closed until Wednesday, Dec. 2 due to a staff member’s potential exposure to COVID-19, but they are still accepting reservations beyond that date. 

Ciao Italia is hoping to bring the igloo trend to Main Street in Durham, N.H. The restaurant announced on its Facebook page that outdoor igloo dining is coming soon, and told The New Hampshire that they are waiting on permission from the town to implement them. 

Durham’s Economic Development Director Christine Soutter said in an email that the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer is working with the fire department to ensure the igloos would be safe while providing the restaurant a good opportunity to serve its customers. 

“It’s a real challenge for everyone as the restaurants are facing a challenge they never could have predicted,” she said, “the Town is tasked with providing guidelines that keep our community safe without negatively impacting our business community.” 

Soutter said she is reaching out to other local communities to see how they’re addressing requests like these: “Fortunately, we are in a small town in a small state where we regularly reach out to other communities to help each other out.” 

Ciao Italia has had the option of outdoor dining to expand its seating options since it opened this past summer, but will lose out on some of their capacity without outdoor seating. Their team has been committed to making the restaurant as safe as possible for its patrons. Booths in the restaurant have recently installed windows that act as partitions, and a commercial cleaning company goes in every Monday to deep clean and sanitize. 

Restaurants along the Seacoast have made many efforts to keep their customers safe throughout the pandemic. Temporary closings have been common in downtown Portsmouth restaurants as precautionary measures in the last month or so.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to worsen, as New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) reports 4,995 active COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 28 with 417 cases reported on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26) and 259 positives on Black Friday (Nov. 27).  

Public Information Officer of Portsmouth New Hampshire, Stephanie Seacord, said in an email that Portsmouth restaurants “have done very well with following the protocols and in finding creative ways to do so while operating a sustainable business model.” 

Seacord said that “it remains the responsibility of restaurant patrons and employees to act responsibly” going into the winter months of the pandemic. 

Amid the increasing risks posed by the spread of COVID-19, restaurants need help from patrons to stay afloat, especially with many of them losing outdoor seating and business slowing down going into the winter season. Seacord said that restaurants who can hang onto outside seating or offer takeout have the best and safest options.  

Restaurant owners are aware of the risks and have optimized their business plans for safe indoor dining and takeout. The city of Portsmouth has a detailed list of requirements restaurants were required to meet when they reopened in the summer, including a detailed floor plan of the socially distanced seating in or outside of the restaurant. They also needed to seek approval from the city to expand their seating outdoors. More of these requirements can be found on the city of Portsmouth Health Department webpage.  

The town of Durham has a slew of options for patrons who would rather order takeout than eat in. Durham’s restaurants like Ciao Italia and more are still dependent on support from students and locals. For more information about some of Durham’s restaurants and their takeout offerings, check out The New Hampshire’s “Food Survival Guide.” 

Photo Courtesy of Evan Edmonds

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