With COVID-19 restrictions restaurants are investing in heat lamps

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(CBS News) – With no end in sight to COVID restrictions, the restaurant industry is on the brink. Outdoor dining has helped, but as temperatures drop, fewer and fewer customers are expected to eat outside.

After more than 8 months of COVID lockdowns and restrictions, 1 in 6 restaurants in the U.S. has shut down permanently, and staffing is down 2 million workers, according to the National Restaurant Association. Now those still open for business are warming up to the idea of heat lamps to sustain outdoor dining this winter.

Benny Ramos has managed to keep his Manhattan restaurant, Anejo, afloat thanks in part to outdoor dining. But when the weather turned colder, he knew a covered patio wouldn’t be enough. “It gets very windy and still having to keep two sides of the structure open definitely makes it a challenge, and it doesn’t make it cheap,” Ramos says.

Ramos says he’s already spent $2,800 on the lamps and hundreds more on propane tank refills as well as employee training and certification. For Ramos, the heat lamps may be the investment that keeps his employees working. “Seeing that these guys can provide for their families, that’s what keeps you going,” Ramos says.

With so many restaurants now forced to consider heat lamps, demand is soaring and prices are too.

David Arnold with heat lamp manufacturer Infratech says his company hasn’t raised prices, but sales are up 400%, and they’re trying to keep up with demand. “We’ve added new people, we’ve bought new equipment, and we even brought on a new facility,” Arnold says.

Many restaurant owners in colder communities say during winter, even heat lamps may not be enough for customers to be willing to eat outdoors.

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