‘I have mixed emotions this morning’: Here’s how restaurant owners reacted to the season’s first snowfall

"A heater is not going to help during this time; a blanket is not going to help during this time," said Nia Grace, owner of Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen.

Wellesley, MA 10/30/2020: 
Snow covers the outdoor dining area of the Maugus Restaurant in Wellesley. 

  Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Snow has arrived, and restaurant owners are asking: Now what? –Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Snow in October? C’mon 2020.

Plummeting temperatures are already a cause for concern among local restaurateurs, as many owners have called it quits on patio season or opted to put their restaurants in hibernation for the winter. With a fresh layer of snow accumulating Friday, some owners who have decided to keep their businesses open are asking: Now what?

“I have mixed emotions this morning,” Sarah Wade, chef and owner of downtown Boston’s Stillwater, told Boston.com. “On one hand, I am hoping we get beat up on takeout today, which is the best way to support restaurants if you don’t want to get out in the mess — and make sure you tip. The servers are still here packing your order and making sure everything is correct. On the other hand, I am rolling out my new winter menu today, and was hoping for a big dinner so that folks could check it out.”

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With her spacious patio now covered in snow, Wade is hoping customers will call in for comfort food, like the braised lamb ragu she just added to her menu, or pop in for some of Stillwater’s snow day pancakes. She said that it’s usually slow every first snow day of the year, but “by the third snow, Bostonians are over it and go on with their life, including going out to restaurants. I think this year will follow the same patterns.”

Jay Spencer is a little more wary. The owner of French Press Bakery & Cafe in Needham shared in an e-mail that rain and snow significantly reduces traffic “from what we have come to call ‘Covid volume,’ which is far less turnout than last year. We expect the guest turnout to go even lower as there is limited school, no sports, family gatherings, work meetings, and friends wanting to get together.”

This winter, French Press will highlight meals-to-go kits, and will consider bringing back curbside pickup, which Spencer said had dwindled as customers felt more comfortable coming into the bakery. 

“Every day is a balance between what you can staff for to provide appropriate customer service and how guests are willing to interact,” he explained.

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Restaurants are already accustomed to dealing with inclement weather during a pandemic, with rain and wind knocking over patio tents and driving away patrons. But snow is another hurdle entirely.

“Regardless with what happens with the weather after this, for many of our guests — when you have four inches of snow in late October, it does kind of turn a switch in your mind,” David Doyle said. The owner of Jamaica Plain restaurants Casa Verde, Little Dipper, and Tres Gatos said that his thoughts are already on late winter and early spring, and that he and other restaurateurs have encouraged the City to allow for a streamlined process when patios reopen next year. 

“Opening those [patios] is going to be really important — and also considering making some of them permanent,” he said. “I think that would be one of the few silver linings in this whole mess, is the idea that we do have the ability to reshape our public spaces and the footprint of our city and where restaurants fit into that.”

In the meantime, his restaurants will focus on offering takeout, with in-house delivery launching at Tres Gatos next week. Doyle urges all guests who are hoping to support their favorite restaurants to pick up their food order if possible, in an effort to avoid third-party delivery apps and the fees that restaurants are charged to use them.

At Alcove, which started offering indoor dining again less than a month ago, an emphasis on takeout will also continue, along with a new delivery option that debuted this week. Owner Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli said they are also taking steps towards winterizing the restaurant with a punched-up hot drinks menu (including a rum wassail, a spiked or not hot chocolate, and mulled wine), along with outdoor fire pits that will be offered in the next few weeks. 

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“I have been joking that we took the summer [off] and went to Nantucket,” he shared. “Now let’s go to Aspen.”

But restaurants are going to need more than heaters and fire pits to draw in customers on cold or snowy days. 

“We knew our pivot was always going to come to: You’ve got to come inside,” said Nia Grace, owner of Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen. “We have already lost guests just on colder days, not even snow days. A heater is not going to help during this time; a blanket is not going to help during this time.”

Grace said she’s spending the day making phone calls to customers with patio reservations and letting them know that the restaurant has plenty of indoor dining space. She said she has winter specials planned that will be similar to the promotions offered throughout the summer and fall, like a complimentary dessert with orders over $25, but that businesses are sacrificing profit by continuing to offer discounts just to get guests to dine out. Instead, she’s hoping that people come to Darryl’s to experience a slice of normalcy (the restaurant recently started offering live music again). And, somehow, she still maintains a positive attitude.

“We’ve got all of November,” she said. “I’m optimistic. That’s all you can do if you’re operating still, is to be optimistic. I know we’ll have a few more November days that’ll allow us to hang out with our heaters until we’re done.”

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