Restaurant owners struggle to maintain outdoor eating space as temperatures cool

Diners in Summit can enjoy at least another month and a half of expanded outdoor seating after the state Department of Transportation approved an extended closure for parts of Maple Street through the end of November.
The approval allows the town to keep the street closed 24-7, rather than reopening overnight. If the street was forced to reopen, restaurant owners would have to bring tables, chairs and supplies inside every night.
Gov. Phil Murphy hinted on Thursday that he is going to lift the 25% cap on indoor dining within the next few days.
This would help restaurant owners who say that they are concerned with outdoor dining now that temperatures are getting colder.
“The restaurant business is no picnic,” says Fiorino Ristorante owner John Bitici. “I’ve been in it 45 years, this is the toughest.”
Bitici says that he has never followed the weather forecast in his 45 years as much as he has this year. He has already invested thousands of dollars in outdoor tables, chairs and canopies. He says that the next thing he will invest in is propane tanks for outside heaters. He says that not only are they expensive to buy and maintain, they are also hard to come by.
“I checked Home Depot, places like that. They didn’t have any. You call to order, they say maybe in a month or something,” he says.
Bitici says that it costs $25 every time he has to refill the tanks as well.
Obtaining the heaters themselves is also difficult. Business owners cannot just buy any outdoor heater; there are rules and restrictions to use them.
“With these, what we’re looking for is that it’s properly sanctioned, so they need to have some permits,” says Summit Fire Battalion Chief Rick Locke. “We look for an agency that certifies them…there’s a whole provision of the code that deals with the storage of propane tanks.”
Bitici says that while it is an extra step and an extra cost, he cannot afford to not invest in the heaters.
The rules and regulations for the heaters depend on the municipality. Business owners should check with their local fire department to find out what rules and restrictions may be in place.