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Dining domes let restaurants seat more customers in a trendy space

Tim Nelson
January 22, 2019

If you were anywhere in the path of winter storm Harper this past weekend, then you were reminded why stepping outside between January and the end of March is usually more trouble than it’s worth. But you wouldn’t know that from observing the patios of trendy restaurants across the country, some of which are seeing a rise in demand for outdoor seating even as the temperature falls.

Why? One word: igloos. All across the country (or at least the parts of it that have seasons), restaurants are turning to heated geodesic domes to put patrons on patios at a time when outdoor dining would otherwise be inconceivable. And it’s not just a matter of using these pop-up shanties to accommodate overflow patrons a la Fyre Festival’s infamous hurricane tent “villas”— patrons are willing to pay a premium and put up with long waits to experience this artificial take on al fresco dining that features heat lamps and seasonal decor.

“I’m getting 50 emails a day from people trying to reserve igloos,” Mike Duganier, owner of igloo-employing Atlanta restaurant Publico told Eater. “And we’re in January. At night time my patio is on a wait—in January.”

Like many dining trends that fan out nationwide, this one can trace its origins back to an overpriced Manhattan establishment. 230 Fifth, a rooftop lounge that once earned the coveted title of “Douchiest Bar in New York," turned to heated, see-through tents earlier in the 2010s to keep business booming amid New York’s cruel winters. The highly Instagrammable experience caught on quickly, and dome maker Gardenigloo saw a spike in commercial clients.

“When we first created our product we were thinking about household users,” Gardenigloo USA owner Volkan Alevok told Eater. But 230 Fifth’s order of fifty igloos changed all that. “People saw the videos and the photos on Instagram, and they demanded the product from us.”

It’s easy to see why the trend has taken off. For restaurateurs, it’s a way to essentially make something out of nothing by seating more diners each night and adding revenue from tables that otherwise wouldn’t exist. And because the experience is interpreted as an elevated take on winter dining, customers would be more likely to put up with higher menu prices or spending minimums. The novelty of the experience (for now, at least), also encourages guests to post about the experience on Instagram and other social platforms, earning igloo restaurants free and authentic publicity.

Though it seems like—and mostly is—a win-win, efforts to integrate igloos into the dining experience haven’t gone off without a hitch. Some restaurants Eater spoke to mention logistical challenges like upticks in reservation requests that clog phone lines, issues zipping and unzipping these geodesic domes, and keeping food hot as it ventures out into cold weather.

Still, with the potential for patioed restaurants to improve their margins at a time of year when that space would otherwise go unused, don’t expect the igloo trend to melt away like our polar ice caps any time soon. And if they’re not your thing, just keep ordering Seamless and they should be gone by the time your period of hibernation is over.

 

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