While Wheeling receives the perfect combination of all four seasons, any person in the area can tell you it gets quite icy come November. Some local restaurants have gone the extra mile by providing outdoor heat lamps for their guests — not only for comfort but for safety measures.
The convenience of heat lamps is not only great for enjoying the outdoors before the arrival of winter, but has also proven helpful for social distancing purposes according to patrons of these establishments.
Later Alligator’s Mitchell Haddad has created a more comfortable space in the restaurant’s courtyard this season with six heat lamps.
While Haddad admits that patrons enjoy this change, he also knows that it comes at a cost.
“If I had my best wish, we would be out all year round, but that’s not feasible. There is a space issue. You can’t have this giant towering heat lamp in the wrong spot,” said Haddad.
“We have those big dogwoods in the back, so that can be dangerous if misplaced. We went to one of our suppliers and asked if they could bring us liquid propane each week. They blow through liquid propane and it really is like running a stove. You’re going to get six hours out of a tank; maybe a bit more.
While heat lamps are only used for certain months out of the year, Haddad did see a serious need for the lamps due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The outdoor dining right now is the safest option. When I saw that Lowes had them in stock, it occurred to me they were going to sell out pretty quickly and I called in and ordered four,” said Haddad.
“Honestly, it was one of those thoughts that everyone is going to want to be outside this year and let’s try to extend that. From a restaurant standpoint, it was a good move.”
One thing that the heat lamps have contributed to for Later Gator is how focused they are on cleanliness and safety in terms of serving the Ohio Valley.
“We’ve asked ourselves, ‘How do you serve your community during a pandemic?’ When you ask that, it helps you make smart decisions rather than what the profitable decision is. It makes it easier to sleep,” said Haddad.
While Haddad is happy to keep his patrons comfortable and warm while they enjoy their meals, he does request that guests do not touch the heat lamps as a safety precaution.
“People will often try to turn them on, but if you don’t know how to do it properly, it isn’t safe. They have an electric starter and it’s just like lighting a gas grill. It can be very unsafe if you don’t know how to operate it correctly,” said Haddad.
Haddad also advises to other establishments that plan on having heat lamps to be very cautious as to where they are placed.
He advises to not put them near outdoor umbrellas, trees buildings and to also advise guests to not touch the lamps.
When asked if the heat lamps would increase sales in comparison to restaurants without heat lamps, Haddad provided a very humble response.
“We aren’t competing with other restaurants. We’re just trying to grow the experience,” said Haddad.
“I’ve never thought we had to do better than anyone. We are going to make this place as safe and inviting as we can. I can save money by saying screw the rules, but I don’t put that much emphasis on the money. I put emphasis on what we can do for the community.”
Haddad does advise that if any business owner wants to purchase heat lamps that they weigh their pros and cons carefully.
“Make the decision. If you think you’re going to spend $200 on a tower, plus the propane in it for $20, $40 or $60 a week, there’s a cost-benefit analysis,” said Haddad.
“People love them and want them on. However, we have to tell people we aren’t turning them on when it’s 65 degrees. They’re relatively maintenance-free, but they are a pain to put together.”
Sarah Lydick, owner and operator of Sarah’s on Main, agrees that heat lamps have contributed to offering safe options during the 2020 pandemic.
“Our motivation to invest in heat lamps is just because of COVID-19. Just to try and extend our outdoor space a bit into the fall so that people can socially distance and be outside, which is obviously safer than being inside,” said Lydick.
While this year has been difficult for every business owner, Lydick believes the heat lamps helped her sales in recent months, but not so much on chilly November days.
“It just depends because I think it helped us earlier in the fall, but now that we are more towards the winter, it’s too cold,” said Lydick.
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“They help a bit, but once it’s like 30 or 40 degrees, it doesn’t help. If we had like a roof, it may be better, but we don’t have one in our courtyard.”
Though Lydick has shown concerns as to the need for heat lamps, the weather has been quite sporadic this year and in years past. Since Lydick is well aware of the fluctuating weather, she is keeping her heat lamps out to keep her patrons happy into the winter.
“It was something where we were thinking about it as we were trying to make our space more comfortable outside for fall and winter. We put a firepit out there and maybe we will use that as well,” said Lydick.
“We had a couple of evening events this year and it was really fun to have that out there, but during the day, we probably won’t be using that.”
As Haddad suggested, Lydick also agrees that the heat lamps come at a cost—literally and figuratively.
“The heat lamps are definitely expensive. You can blow through propane pretty fast and it’s just another thing to do,” said Lydick.
“Also, making sure it is on and off at the appropriate times. That has happened to us where we’ve noticed people have turned the gas on and not been able to light it.”
Lydick also loves the idea of people simply dressing warm and bringing along whatever comforting item they’d like to enjoy a fresh mocha latte in the courtyard.
“We’ve had some people bring a blanket and bring a jacket with friends and sit out there. They just take it upon themselves to dress warm, so that is nice,” said Lydick.
“That and the heat lamps definitely make it more comfortable for customers for sure.”
Whether heat lamps are a big or small contribution to Sarah’s on Main, Lydick does firmly believe that they are one of the newer fixtures that forward-thinking restaurants have.
“I think everyone is getting them. I think locally, most places are getting them, but it’s a COVID-19 thing now,” Lydick.
“We closed the courtyard before, but since it’s safer to be outside, it makes sense to find ways to keep it open longer. We will provide them for as long as we can.”
Former Wheeling City Council candidate, Crissy Clutter, can attest that the heat lamps are a huge hit for guests enjoying a nice meal.
“It’s really great that places like Sarah’s on Main and The Alpha Tavern have heat lamps because we can still sit outside and feel better about meeting friends for lunch,” said Clutter.
“I met friends at the new Char House on the Boulevard for a glass of wine and cheese plate and heard live music outside. I was super excited to be able to do this because I felt safe outside. I was warm because of the heat lamps and remained six feet apart.”
While heat lamps are an investment on the restaurant’s end, guests deeply appreciate the effort set forth in providing them. One thing is for certain, which is that COVID-19 will not be stopping any local residence from enjoying a safe and comfortable meal in the Friendly City.
Want to dine outdoors? Try one of these spots around town:
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.