Outdoor dining easier said than done for some Aspen restaurants
Circumstances of space and structure make outdoor dining a challenge; proprietors feeling community support
When the Pitkin County Board of Health voted to go all in on Red level COVID-19 restrictions last week, restaurants shouldered the brunt of the changes. Effective Sunday, indoor dining was out of the question; last call was bumped up to 8 p.m.
Under the previous “Orange-plus-plus” restrictions, indoor dining was limited to 25% capacity with a 9:30 p.m. last call within Orange level guidelines while most other sectors of business were already subject to Red level restrictions.
The new restrictions applied to all restaurants in Pitkin County. But not all eateries have the same ability to accommodate the rules: some venues fared better than others when Sunday rolled around, their fate contingent in part on the circumstances of their location.
Consider the setup at one of Aspen Skiing Co.’s on-mountain restaurants.
“All of our restaurants are going along full bore,” said Skico’s culinary director Jim Butchart.
The company was able to expand the outdoor dining footprint at some restaurants by adding more tables on decks and on snow outside, Butchart said.
Plus, large, dome-like tents at some locations have walls that can slide up to create an open-air environment that meets Colorado’s standards for outdoor dining. Most restaurants only operate during the day, serving customers already dressed for the elements in their ski and snowboard gear. An online ordering system also helps them limit the time people spend indoors.
“It’s not affecting us nearly as much as if we were a restaurant in downtown Aspen,” Butchart said.
As for those downtown Aspen restaurants, it’s easier for some than for others to embrace the outdoor experience.
Eateries like Aspen Tap and White House Tavern in downtown Aspen already had outdoor dining setups equipped with heaters; most outdoor tables were filled at those spots by midafternoon Sunday.
But restaurants that built fully covered and enclosed structures to expand their indoor dining capacity — French Alpine Bistro and Jing Aspen both adopted that strategy — can no longer use those structures under Colorado’s guidelines for outdoor dining. They’ll need to modify the structures by removing some walls or coverings to use the space under Red level restrictions.
Others don’t have the same flexibility due to the limitations of space and quality of experience. Duemani is temporarily closed and Acquolina is operating on a takeout-only model, according to Gretchen Leary. She co-owns the two restaurants with her partner, Luigi Giordani.
“Aquolina is a great concept for winter outdoor dining — we just don’t have the space,” Leary wrote in a message. As for Duemani, the fine dining experience isn’t simpatico with eating outside in the winter, Leary wrote.
“People want indoor dining to be available, (and) that choice has been removed,” she noted.
“(We’re) devastated that our staff, industry and community are in this position.”
But the community continues to rally their support, Leary noted.
Heather Huber, co-owner of the Daly Diner and Tasters in Snowmass Village, felt the same way.
After the Red level restrictions were enacted last week, Huber said local community members offered suggestions and lent a hand to help the diner cultivate a cozier atmosphere on their patio. (The space now includes a TV, heaters, a bar-like seating area and cushioned benches, most of it set up in the past week.)
Sunday was as busy as any other between outdoor diners and takeout orders, Huber said; many are deliberately calling or showing up to support the restaurants during challenging times.
“We’ve had a lot of local support,” Huber said. “I love this community and I believe in it and that’s what I think will pull us through.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment establishes that the following structures are acceptable for outdoor dining: two non-adjacent sides open side to side and floor to ceiling (i.e. a ‘tunnel’ shape); single-party structures that allow for ventilation between parties (think igloos); ceilings, roofs, umbrellas or canopies without walls; or two adjacent walls closed with two open sides and no roof (i.e. a table nestled into an uncovered corner).
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