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A weatherproof tent set up outside a Boulder restaurant in March. Photo: Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Outdoor dining options kept many Denver restaurants in business amid COVID-19 restrictions last fall and winter — and now the industry is taking steps to bring the cozy patio tents back.

Why it matters: The impending cold weather, combined with concerns over the Delta variant's spread, have restaurant owners searching for ways to keep diners coming.

  • 6 in 10 Americans are changing their dining patterns going into the cooler season because of Delta variant concerns, according to a recent survey from the National Restaurant Association.
  • Nearly 20% said they don't plan to dine out at all.

State of play: The summer months boosted Colorado restaurants' bottom lines. Reservations were down an average of only 6% through Aug. 9 compared with the same point in 2019, according to OpenTable data.

  • Yes, but: Razor-thin margins, a lack of federal COVID relief, worker shortages and debt accumulated during the pandemic.
  • Industry experts tell Axios that restaurants are limiting hours or even days of operation just to get by.

What they're saying: "For an industry that requires a 'full house' every evening to make a profit, this is a dangerous and depressing trend," Colorado Restaurant Association spokesperson Denise Mickelsen told Axios.

What's next: The Denver City Council is poised to pass a $1 million grant for the Colorado Restaurant Foundation, using federal COVID relief funds. Assuming it's pushed through, local restaurant owners and operators will be eligible for $10,000 to distribute among employees in $1,500 allotments.

  • The city estimates the proposed grants could help support about 950 restaurant workers and benefit nearly 150 employers.
  • The council approved the resolution in an initial vote on Monday. A final decision is slated for Sept. 27.

Meanwhile, restaurants with greenhouses, yurts and other outdoor dining structures are gearing up to use them through the coming colder months, Mickelsen says. Those that didn't last year are now considering weather-proof options.

  • Heated patios will make a comeback, too. Operators of My Neighbor Felix tell Fox31 they're getting heaters ready at their Denver and Boulder locations.
  • Temporary outdoor dining "has been such a pivotal part of our business. We’re talking 72 extra covers, every single night," says Kasie Waxman, who helps run the restaurant in Boulder.

Context: Denver extended its outdoor dining program in May to allow patrons to dine al fresco on streets and sidewalks through October 2022. Boulder recently elongated its outdoor dining rules to run through next April.

The bottom line: Restaurants and city leaders can continue to get creative to keep the industry afloat, but only time will tell if there's a return on investment.

Go deeper

Oct 18, 2021 - Axios Denver

Hungry bears descend on Denver

A black bear in a tree near C-470 and South Platte Canyon Road. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Keep your eyes open, friends. Colorado wildlife officials are reporting an increase in black bear activity in the Denver metro area.

What’s happening: Our furry friends are getting ready to hibernate — and they’re packing on the pounds to prepare.

Oct 18, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Scoop: Wisconsin-style supper club coming to Minneapolis

Image: Courtesy of Ward Johnson

The former Pepito's restaurant next to Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis will become a Wisconsin-style supper club.

Driving the news: Ward Johnson and Eddie Landenberger — who own both the restaurant building and the theater at 48th and Chicago — are in the process of renovating the restaurant, which briefly was home to El Burrito Mercado after Pepito’s closed.

  • Their third partner on the project is Wisconsin native Eli Wollenzien, a supper club fan who's also the owner/chef of Red Sauce Rebellion and Coalition in Excelsior. (Coalition also has a spot at 50th and France.)
Updated 3 hours ago - World

North Korea claims latest missile test new weapon launched from submarine

North Korean state media claims the country's military fired this missile on Tuesday. Photo: Korean Central News Agency

North Korean state media announced that a detected ballistic missile launch off its east coast on Tuesday was a newly developed weapon test-fired from a submarine.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches into the sea happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.