The industry, however, wasn’t ready for this kind of demand; Arnold says a spike came when smoking bans were enacted, but that it was smaller. “I don’t think anyone that I’ve talked to really anticipated the spike in demand there has been. It’s caused some problems on a national scale,” Kahn says.

As US restaurants prepare for the cold winter months, it’s taking longer to fulfill orders for some of the most popular products, such as the umbrella domed propane-powered heaters. Arnold says those “are probably going to be very scarce, if available at all, at least until after the first of the year.” Other models, from portable propane-powered models to permanent overhead installations, are sold out, too.

Unlike earlier in the pandemic, when supply chain issues were caused by factory shutdowns in China, supply hasn’t been able to meet demand because manufacturers simply didn’t anticipate it. “I would say conservatively that 90% of all of those heaters come from overseas. Those factories determine their production schedules six months in advance, and none of them saw this coming,” Arnold says.

Now, demand is so high that most factories are backordered, says Kahn. Lead times are especially long for overhead gas patio heaters and overhead electric heaters.

No one’s quite sure how long this demand, like the pandemic itself, will last. “Looking six months in advance, we see that now through the first quarter of 2021, that the demand will be very high. But our crystal ball only goes until about next April, and we don’t know beyond that. We are gearing up to have double the production, double the inventory, between now and the end of next March,” Arnold says.

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