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Wisconsin Restaurants Are Putting Together Plans For Outdoor Winter Dining

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Maria Sbytova
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As winter approaches, restaurants will have to decide how to continue outdoor dining or go without the safest option of in-person service.

Since the pandemic began, Milwaukee restaurants have found interesting ways to stay open and keep business going. Many of them have relied on an increase in takeout orders and some restaurants have been offering outside dining.

Though, as the temperatures drop in Wisconsin, where does that leave restaurants that have depended on outdoor dining to increase capacity?

Tom Daykin has been reporting on these issues for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He's been looking at how restaurants are preparing for their first winter during the pandemic.

“In some cases, they’re using those portable heaters, which I think we’ve all become familiar with,” says Daykin. “So you’ve got that as a possibility. The other possibility is doing certain structural changes.”

For example, Nomad World Pub on the east side is looking into installing wind walls and other partial covers on its outdoor patio. But that's a tough line to toe: too many walls and covers will create what is essentially an indoor space, but not enough leaves patrons exposed to the chilling temperatures.

Milwaukee residents may have already seen more restaurants using street space in front of their buildings, which is due to the Common Council and the mayor removing fees for using that space. The program that allows businesses to use street space runs through Nov. 15, but the city could extend it through the winter.

“I think the bigger thing [outdoor dining] is going to require is a real change in attitude in how we as Wisconsin residents approach winter,” he says.

So no matter what restaurants do, a winter jacket may become an important part of Wisconsin dining.

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.
Tom Daykin has been covering commercial development at the Journal Sentinel since 1995.
Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July and Digital Producer in January 2021.