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TOO HOT TO HANDLE

Restaurants that survived Covid can't survive this heat wave

Restaurant worker with mask inside kitchen.
Shannon Stapleton, Reuters
  • Michelle Cheng
By Michelle Cheng

Reporter based in New York

Published

Covid forced many restaurants to shut down. But those that pulled through are facing a new challenge: extreme heat.

Restaurants across the the US, from the Pacific Northwest to Connecticut, are finding themselves ill-equipped to handle high temperatures, forcing some to close down for the safety of patrons and workers. The same effect is happening in other parts of the world, pubs in the UK closed during sweltering days.

Employees working in kitchens, such as those stationed next to the pizza ovens, for instance, are taking the brunt of the heat. “It’s hot in that kitchen for my staff working back there, it’s very hot, customers coming in once they start opening the front door it just sucks the air conditioning out and these wood panels hold the heat and humidity, so it just gets really warm in here,” Barb Court, owner of Maxi’s Food & Spirits in South Bend, Indiana, which closed in response to high temperatures for the first time, told the television station WSBT in mid-June. During a late July weekend, Doogie’s, a restaurant in Connecticut which has no air conditioning, closed for the weekend, for the safety of employees as cooking surfaces reach between 300 and 350 degrees, Doogie’s manager Kim Cornell told CT Insider.

Meanwhile, another Connecticut restaurateur said he closed his business during the middle of the day in part due to concerns that the high heat would affect refrigeration equipment.

In the Pacific Northwest, where air conditioning is not the norm, restaurants coped with a weeklong heat wave—with the temperature reaching as high as 110 degrees—at the end of July. A pizza place in Seattle said temperatures inside reached 108 degrees, reported the New York Times. Looking to stay open as much as possible, some restaurants either shortened hours, changed menu offerings from pizza to sandwiches that hold well in hot weather, or turn to takeout.

But it’s not just restaurants feeling the heat. Extreme temperatures are also keeping customers indoors and away from outdoor dining and bars, which further hurts business.

What are the solutions to extreme heat for restaurants?

The extreme heat is pushing some restaurants invest in air-conditioning. The owner of Double Mountain Brewery in Oregon told the New York Times that monthly energy costs jumped by thousands of dollars during last year’s heat. But with cooling units costing up to $20,000, some restaurants are hesitant to make the costly investment, for now. In the future, during the sweltering days, one question raised is whether businesses will decide to provide workers’ paid time off when forced to close for weather reasons.

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