Minnesota restaurants innovate outdoor dining strategies in the harsh winter


Sarah McGurl

Large outdoor heaters stand tall at a Minnesota outdoor dining setup.

Sarah McGurl, Staff Writer

Although the Governor’s announcement to allow outdoor dining in the midst of a Minnesota winter may seem ridiculous, restaurants are rising to the challenge in order to create a comfortable setting for their customers to once again enjoy eating out. Currently nineteen restaurants ranging from the elegant Gianni’s Steakhouse of Downtown Wayzata to the notorious Smack Shack of Minneapolis are opening for outdoor dining on Friday, December 18th. Not only are restaurants opening up, fourteen breweries will be open and ready for business as well. These numbers are expected to increase as more dining establishments prepare plans for how to tackle outdoor dining in winter.

For many, the idea of sitting outside in any temperature below freezing to enjoy a meal seems daunting. However, these restaurants are going above and beyond to ensure their guests have a comfortable and enjoyable dining experience. You won’t be seeing any of the igloos that began popping up in the fall, because according to the Stay Safe MN Plan any outdoor shelter used for dining can’t be fully enclosed. This forces restaurant owners to get very creative. 

A multitude of patio heaters enclosed by a massive tent is the common trend amongst restaurants. Smack Shack, Red Cow, and Red Rabbit amongst several other establishments have installed infrared heaters over their patios instead of setting up a tent. Other restaurants, such as Grocer’s Table in Wayzata, bought new fire pits to fill their patios and are encouraging customers to BYOB, as in bring your own blanket. The Grocer’s table rents out fire pits in 2 hour time slots for $100. Restaurants without much outdoor space, such as Pig Ate My Pizza in Robbinsdale, have turned their parking lots into a massive tent. A few establishments such as the Gnome Craft Pub have gotten extraordinarily creative. The Gnome has set up a massive screen outside their pub to stream Christmas movies as customers feast upon their drive in dining menu. 

Unfortunately many restaurants have already undergone countless hardships and are not financially able to make a comfortable outdoor dining space. Through a phone interview with Patricia Conchon, one of the owners of McCormick’s in downtown Wayzata, the hardships were made evident. “Right now we can’t staff full outdoor service and we aren’t going to spend more money to make outdoor dining accommodations. The whole thing was pretty sprung on us,” said Conchon. McCormack’s plans to set up high top tables outside their restaurant and allow people to drink there while feasting upon their takeout food. Birch’s on the Lake in Long Lake are going by a similar plan and are opening up their deck for outdoor drinking with takeout food. 

Towns that once were completely shuttered are now starting to become a little more lively with the addition of outdoor dining. Minnesotans all over the state are braving the cold temperatures in order to support their local businesses and it’s an amazing sight to see.