GLEN MILLS — The image of these pretty, lit greenhouses in a field at the La Fava Restaurant and Bar here look inviting and warm.
Even with evening temperatures dipping into the 20s.
And that was the goal Michael Buono had in mind when he tried to figure out a way of incorporating outdoor dining and customer comfort during the winter months.
“We knew this was going to happen as the pandemic continued since this spring,” said Buono. “And necessity made me dig deep to figure out something that would be more than just a tent.”
The restaurant has seen these bubbles, which Buono purchased from a California manufacturer, bring customers for outdoor dining, when a lot of businesses are struggling to keep customers in the cold weather.
“They are actually called ‘stargazing tents,” said Buono, “that’s how they were presented to me.
And people are definitely telling us that they enjoy the experience.”
La Fava is booking the stargazing tents three times a night over the weekends. The restaurant currently has 10 of them and has two more on the way.
“I have to say, Longwood Gardens is always a fantastic experience, any time of year,” said Buono, noting that the famed gardens are a quick drive from the restaurant in nearby Kennett Square. “We have a lot of families coming here for a meal together and then heading out to the gardens. It is a fantastic winter experience together.”
Buono is one of many restaurant owners in the Delaware Valley trying to find a way to continue business during a pandemic that has made indoor dining less attractive to customers and as of December 12, not allowed in Pennsylvania anyway.
Taqueria Feliz Amor on Main Street in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, came up with some wooden cubbies and a lot of holiday lighting to make the outdoors “a little warmer,” said owner Tim Skinner.
“Of course, it’s not really warm, because it is 30 degrees outside, but there is a warm look to it… with the lighting and everything, customers tell us there is a kind of beachy, cozy feel, and that is entirely what we were going for,” he said.
The taqueria, despite the pandemic, sees plenty of customers each night.
One of Skinner’s goals with the design was to keep it open air “and really provide more protection from the wind,” to avoid people spreading germs as much as possible.
“Obviously, we had to do something to survive this,” said Skinner. “But we are pleased with the result. It’s not ordinary times, and we are doing the best we can.”
At SOMO, further down Main Street in Manayunk, customers are eating in greenhouses – similar to the La Fava stargazing tents, and “the majority of guest feedback has been great,” said restaurant manager Marissa Krawciw. “Our guests love being able to sit in an outdoor environment while staying warm.”
Like La Fava and Taqueria, the inspiration was born from necessity.
“We were looking for alternate opportunities to keep our guests and staff safe during the COVID pandemic, during this unprecedented time,” said Krawciw.
SOMO plans to have more seats available for the winter holidays, for a total of 52 possible heated seats for diners.
“Safety is the utmost priority to us,” the manager said, “so the greenhouses do have a full ventilation system installed.”