Patios have been a saving grace for restaurants in Minnesota during the pandemic but with winter looming, they're having to get creative to continue serving customers outside.
"It's an experience ... It's a really fun element and I think we're all looking for safe ways to have fun," NineTwentyFive General Manager Laura Garcia told Bring Me The News.
The restaurant, located in the Hotel Landing at 925 Lake St. E, installed the four igloos on Thursday, and they've already gotten a lot of interest from customers, Garcia said.
These bubbles aren't new to the industry. In recent years, restaurants, have installed them on their patios to offer a unique and intimate dining experience in the winter, but this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, dining in a bubble takes on a whole new meaning.
"Like every restaurant out there we started investigating ways to extend the [outdoor] dining season because, again, people feel comfortable and safe eating outdoors," Garcia said, noting they saw these igloos and thought they had a "really great location for it."
The igloos, which seat up to eight people, have a small heater in them to keep them warm, with Garcia noting they do warm up – much like a greenhouse does – in the sun. There are also blankets available for anyone who wants one to wrap up or place on their laps (they're washed after every use).
Each igloo has a door and two windows on opposite sides that can be zipped open or closed, allowing people to open them up if it gets warm or to get some fresh air moving through.
The igloos are available to reserve now by calling the restaurant (they'll be available to reserve via the app Open Table soon).
Starting next week, there will be food and beverage minimums, ranging from $250 for weeknight dinners and weekend brunch and $500 for weekend dinners. Currently, breakfast during the week is free, but Garcia said all minimums could change and pricing for special events and holidays hasn't yet been determined.
In addition to the igloos, NineTwentyFive has two floors of outdoor porches that have heaters in the ceiling. Garcia said they've recently added motorized shades – she compared them to a fabric screen – that help hold in the heat, keeping them warmer.
The plan is to have the igloos available all winter long, and the porches will be open as long as people want to sit out there, Garcia said.
Meanwhile, the restaurant plans to add plexiglass barriers between the booths in the coming weeks as "another level of safety" for customers who choose to eat inside.
Garcia said they've been fortunate during the pandemic because they've still seen "very robust business" at the restaurant and hotel once restaurants were allowed to reopen in the spring.
Other restaurants in Minnesota are also making changes, like installing heaters, tents and firepits in hopes of continuing to attract diners to their outdoor spaces, where many feel more comfortable during the COVID-19 pandemic because evidence has shown that although dining out is risky, it's less risky to eat outside if tables are six feet apart and restaurant workers are all masked (as is required in Minnesota).
Among the restaurants extending the patio season:
Schram House Brewery in Chaska has an outdoor beer garden with fire pits, and this winter it'll have an ice rink, WCCO says.
WCCO has an expansive list of restaurants that are keeping their patios open for longer. Check it out here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sitting outside at tables spaced at least six feet apart whenever possible to help limit the risk of COVID-19. The CDC reported in September that people who tested positive for the virus were twice as more likely to have reported eating at a restaurant compared to those who tested negative, saying people don't wear masks when they're eating or drinking and social distancing can be difficult to maintain.