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Flint restaurants owners share how heating outdoor dining can be costly during cold winter weather

As temperatures are dropping, the cost keeping their outdoor setup heated and enjoyable for their customers is rising
Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 11:31 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (12/02/2020) - A worry for restaurant owners: as the temperature continues dropping, the cost keeping their outdoor setup heated and enjoyable for their customers is rising.

When the state announced a temporary ban on indoor dining beginning on November 18, restaurants across Michigan scrambled to secure new heating sources just to stay open.

“What we’re finding now, just a few weeks in, is that the cost to operate heaters and the external was something we never thought of,” Joshua Spencer said.

Spencer is the owner of Café Rhema in Flint. He says he uses four propane tanks per day to heat two domes.

Using a hardware store like Home Depot, refueling propane tanks cost about $20 each. Multiply that by 4 tanks to get $80 per day, then multiply that by 30 days for a grand total of $2,400 per month.

“To maintain propane heaters would cost us as much as our rent every month to be able to have a handful of tents warm while meanwhile, we’re still paying our rent, and we’re still paying our utilities to keep our inside going,” Spencer said.

Spencer says electric heaters are fine for warmer winter days, but they won’t bring in enough heat when temps hit the teens and single digits.

Meanwhile at Xolo Restaurant in Flint, they have a different setup to avoid swapping out tanks every day.

“We could get a bulk tank set out in the yard here, split the hoses out to each individual unit, hook them up, turn up the gas, and then they refill it when it runs out,” owner Spencer Ruegsegger said.

Ruegsegger consulted with a business partner, Phil Shaltz, who made a few phone calls to make it happen. They are connecting six heaters to the bulk tank with two in each greenhouse and one in each igloo.

Shaltz says leasing a 150-gallon tank costs about $2 per gallon and estimated to last about three weeks. That’s $300 for about three weeks, so about 400 for a month.

“It’s definitely an added cost, but it’s either you do that or don’t operate outdoor seating,” Ruegsegger said.

That’s just for heating, not including the greenhouses, igloos, lights, and decorating.

Both Spencer and Ruegsegger like many small business owners, are looking out for any and all grants to offset some of the major costs.

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