New York City restaurants are banking on expanded outdoor dining to survive the winter. But good luck finding a heat lamp.
The heaters, pivotal equipment as bars and restaurants try to extend al fresco dining, are in short supply. A rush of orders and shipping delays from China have driven up prices and created backlogs that could run into next year.
“There’s no more left,” said Jeff Katz, owner of Crown Shy in the Financial District. “Every other city has had weeks, if not months, to order heaters.”
The shortage of heat lamps, which can run from about $150 to as much as $1,500 each, is the latest headache for an industry that is teetering on the brink of collapse. Outdoor tables have been full in recent weeks, helping restaurants limp along as New Yorkers enjoy the pleasant weather and relish the chance to socialize after months of lockdown.
But pushing outdoor dining deeper into the year is a climate-defying Hail Mary for businesses with no good options as long as the pandemic keeps a lid on indoor restaurant capacity.
New York restaurants have complained that the new regulations extending outdoor dining came too late, making it impossible to find heat lamps after they were gobbled up by restaurants in other cities and homeowners looking to extend the backyard grilling season.
Robert Arbor, who owns the French bistro Le Gamin in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, tried to order four lamps about a week before the city announced the loosened rules. He had one in his online cart, but when he refreshed the website, the shipping time jumped from days to months. Now, three of the lamps won’t arrive until November.
Other restaurants might not be so lucky, with manufacturers and suppliers struggling to keep up. Niagara, Ontario-based Easy Radiant Works has taken more orders in the past few weeks than in the past few years, according to the company. That comes as it faces staffing shortages driven by social-distancing.
California-based AEI Corp., which manufactures and distributes heaters, saw orders increase fivefold in August. In Santa Barbara, Think Green Supplies has been raising prices on the few heat lamps it has left in anticipation of a spike in orders from New York City, one of its primary markets.
The company scrambled to find a new source in China after its regular suppliers said they were back ordered until 2021. It recently paid $160,000 to fly 4,500 lamps to the U.S., expediting a shipping process that can take 40 days.
“They were the last resort,” said Noah Bobrowsky, a co-founder of the company.
In New York, many restaurants have already closed permanently, unable to survive the shutdown. Nearly 90% of restaurants, bars and nightlife venues couldn’t pay full rent in August, according to a survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance.
With back payments piling up, many more are expected to shutter by the end of the year without financial support. And while restaurants can now open with 25% indoor capacity, the math doesn’t work for many businesses to break even.
It won’t be long before lower temperatures make outdoor dining uncomfortable, with heat lamps perhaps the best bet to defy the calendar.
Little Beet Table, a “veggie-inspired” restaurant on Park Avenue, just east of Madison Square Park, has 14 outdoor dining seats that have been full since it reopened in June, according to Chief Executive Officer Becky Mulligan. It can now seat 20 diners indoors, but is on the hunt for heat lamps to keep its sidewalk business alive.
“It’s extremely challenging to get a heat lamp,” Mulligan said. “We don’t want to put all our eggs in the basket that we’ll have increased indoor dining.”
— With assistance by Kate Krader, and Jordyn Holman
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