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Arkansas restaurants adapt outdoor dining to COVID winter months

Local restaurant owners are quickly finding out that heaters may be the new toilet paper!

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — We've all seen the expansion and popularity of outdoor dining and how it's helped local restaurants stay afloat. 

Now that we are heading into the colder months, restaurants are adapting again, by adding more heaters outside. 

La Terraza owner, Sarah Bolanos, has been working on this long before winter crept its way in. 

"I've been researching heaters and other kind of outdoor options, whether it be propane heaters or central gas line heaters, for about three to four months," she said. 

But Bolanos quickly figured out that heaters are becoming the new toilet paper. 

"A lot of them have been sold out even leading up to now," she said. 

Bolanos checked different sites daily until she could find seven more to add to her three-tier patio.

"I checked one day before, my husband checked the next day, and then all of a sudden they were in stock, and I went and bought all of them," she said. 

Heaters and blankets have always been a necessity since the restaurant opened, but this year with limited seating inside and safety concerns, Bolanos said it was vital to keep customers comfortable and business alive.

"We don't have another option. I mean, you can't just seat four tables all night and make it through winter," she said. 

According to Bolanos, the Venezuelan and Spanish fusion restaurant is developing a new outdoor space that will be 75% covered with a 20-foot central gas heater in the ceiling. 

"So that way it'll all lower down, it's more enclosed and will be warmer than the open-air patio right now," she said. 

Just down the road, owner of Hill Station Daniel Bryant is trying to stock up his outdoor patio too.

"The search continues, but so far, I've got nine or 10," he said.

Bryant noticed the price was significantly higher than the $150 he spent on each heater a year ago.

"This year I went to order some more and I found out that they were around $450 to around $1500 apiece now," he said. 

According to Bryant, the restaurant has also added heaters under the tables to keep customers' legs and feet warm with plans to put a large tent over part of the yard with heat and airflow circling in and out.

"As long as people are willing to brave it outside, so are we," he said. 

Both La Terraza and Hill Station will soon be selling blankets, with their logos, that customers can purchase when they go out to eat.