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Las Vegas restaurants hope heat won’t put damper on al fresco dining

Updated June 12, 2020 - 9:15 am

Spurred by the news that we’re most vulnerable to COVID-19 in crowded, enclosed spaces, restaurant experts nationwide have touted al fresco dining as a likely lifesaver for an industry reeling from the effects of the shutdown.

The timing may seem problematic, with Southern Nevada entering the hottest time of the year, but operators say they are seeing demand for outdoor dining and hope to continue it as far into the summer as possible.

“It’s helped us tremendously,” said Michael Corrigan, owner of Vintner Grill at 10100 W. Charleston Blvd. “Not only is it one of the most popular places to sit, but it’s given us the ability to expand our capacity. We can actually realize some profit. With 50 percent capacity, the way we’re set up, you can’t make money. We’re so happy we have it.”

Vintner Grill, which is in a Summerlin office park, has an al fresco area with cabanas and tables, complete with linen tablecloths and candlelight. Corrigan said it helps that it’s on the east side of a building that, along with landscaping, provides shade as the sun sets in the west.

Although the weather’s been pleasant lately, he’s hopeful the demand will continue.

“Right now I think people are willing to sit out there even though it’s a little bit hotter,” Corrigan said. “I think they like the outside and the fresh air with everything that’s been going on with the pandemic. We hope to be sitting out right through the whole summer.”

Marche Bacchus at 2620 Regatta Drive has the rare desert distinction of having lakefront seating, and co-owner Rhonda Wyatt said demand has been high there, too.

“Even in the hotter days, people want to be on the patio,” she said. She said July and August have always been difficult months, not only because the heat means the restaurant isn’t top of mind, despite its misters and fans, but also because so much of the regular clientele travels in the summer.

“What I’m hearing is nobody’s planning on traveling,” she said. “So, I really think in the long run, that’s going to help us. I guess I’m cautiously optimistic that our volume levels will continue through the summer, unlike past summers. I’ve always loved our location, but who knew — it’s really paying off in spades that it’s an outdoor venue.”

Laurie Kendrick, co-owner of Table 34 at 600 E. Warm Springs Road, said she heard from an associate in Florida that al fresco dining is saving the industry there and she is seeing similar effects here.

“We’re seeing a big uptick in requests to dine outside, especially when the weather’s cooperating,” she said. “Not just in terms of temperature, but also wind.”

She said she purchased a couple of swamp coolers in an effort to keep temperatures down on the patio, which is partially shaded.

“As long as we can do it, given the weather conditions we have here, we will do it,” Kendrick said. “We’re hopeful for the next month. Different people have different tolerances. And people are expanding the idea of what they’ll tolerate.”

At Kitchen Table at 1716 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway in Henderson, chef/owner Javier Chavez said he can seat about 80 people outside. He has cabanas on opposite sides of the space and umbrella tables and plans to buy more umbrellas. He also has a couple of swamp coolers.

“Hopefully that’ll do some form of adjustment,” he said of the latter, “to be able to put more people outside. The temperatures do get warm, usually about mid-July. We don’t seat as often then because it’s so hot.”

Michele Patterson, operating partner of Lazy Dog at Town Square, said since the chain installed an outdoor cooling system a few years ago, patio usage even in the hottest months has been 20 to 30 percent of volume.

“We usually don’t see a decrease of patio business until about July, and that’s when you see the drop,” she said. “We do believe it’s going to trend strong. We have found that more people are interested in outside dining; those are the reservation slots that fill up the quickest.

“We’ll see how everything ends up going. This is the first time with these restrictions. We’re just preparing to keep everyone as cool as possible.”

Chavez, too, is cautiously optimistic.

“We’ll just learn as we go, keep pushing forward,” he said. “I’m just glad to be open. It’s been almost three months being locked up in the house and going nuts.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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