Restaurants getting creative with unique outdoor dining hot spots this winter

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INDIANAPOLIS — Restaurants face an uphill challenge when it comes to outdoor dining this winter, but that hasn’t stopped locations from trying to get creative.

“We are trying to make people comfortable to dine with us,” says Nick Warner, owner of the tiki bar Strange Bird in Irvington, “You’ve seen some transparent igloos out there. There’s all sorts of different stuff people come up with.”

At Strange Bird they are turning rentable storage pods into tropical dining rooms. They have ten in total costing them $1,500 a month. So far, they are a hit. The pods are fully decorated to meet their tiki vibe and are heated with a space heater. The door remains open to keep air flow going.

“We have only been doing it for a day, but we already have a ton of engagement on social media,” adds Warner, “They are already filling up for the evening. They filled up last night.”

Visit Indy is offering up to $2,500 in “winterization” grants for restaurants looking to warm up their outdoor dining. More than 100 locations have already applied. The Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association (InRLA) says so far, no COVID contact tracing has come back to an Indiana restaurant. They say that’s due to the regulations and cleaning protocols in place. Besides sanitizing their pods, Strange Bird is taking it one extra step.

“We are getting a lot of air flow during the guest experience, and then in addition to that, after the guests leave we actually blow it out with a leaf blower,” chuckles Warner, “Really disperse the air, and then we come in and sanitize everything.”

The city has also given out $11 million in grant money to help restaurants pay rent. InRLA says all that money is gone, and that applications are closed.

“It’s going to blow your mind, but we have exhausted $11 million,” explains Patrick Tamm, InRLA President and CEO, “52% were XBE. That’s women, Black owned, Asian owned, Hispanic owned restaurants.”

The most any spot could get was $25,000 dollars, while the average place got $19,000 dollars in relief for rent.

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