What's the difference between eating outside in an enclosed space, and dining indoors?

Edelweiss explains how they ensure ventilation, while trying to maintain heat
What's the difference between eating outside in an enclosed space, and dining indoors?
Posted at 2:33 AM, Dec 17, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — Change is constant for restaurants these days, now restricted to outdoor dining only. However, in some outdoor dining situations, it may be difficult to distinguish exactly what is different from eating inside.

Edelweiss German Restaurant has done everything possible to transform their patio into a place where people can enjoy dinner on a cold Colorado evening. They have infrared heaters, propane heaters, fire pits, and blankets to try and keep customers warm. Still, they can only sit around 40 people on their patio, when normally the entire restaurant could serve anywhere from 250 to 300 people. "We have worked probably harder than ever, and we just feel like there's more and more regulations being thrown at us... The whole year's just pretty much a loss for us," said Dieter Schnakenberg, the owner and manager of Edelweiss.

Schankenberg said they received a PPP loan in the beginning of the year, and did well financially during the summer. He thought they may actually close out the year with a small profit, but then Level Red on the Colorado COVID Dial hit. His staff was cut to around half of their original numbers, with employees only getting around two to three shifts a week. "We had no idea that it was going to be middle of December trying to seat our patio... Almost an impossible dilemma to solve, how to keep heat in somewhere without walls," said Schnakenberg.

Their patio already had a fence surrounding it, and Edelweiss added a mesh barrier in the middle of the space to separate it into two sides. There are also pergolas stretching over tables around the edge, but not forming an entire roof. "We added a little bit of this mesh netting, it's a shade sail, just to try and stop the wind a little bit, but it's still breathable... It doesn't enclose everything, and still allows for air to go back and forth. But, then it still maybe traps the heat just a little bit, which when we're having 30 degree nights, you need it... We took everything into consideration when we did it, and we're still getting a lot of airflow through here," said Schnakenberg.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) defines a wall as anything that can "restrict aerosols from passing through." A loose mosquito net would not be considered a wall, since it does not reduce airflow. However, a fabric sheet curtain, tarp, or plastic barrier would be classified as a wall.

Temporary outdoor structures classification
The temporary outdoor structures classification from CDPHE.

The state writes that without airflow, virus particles become trapped. "The virus then recirculates and the concentration of the virus increases as people continue to breathe out the virus."

Meanwhile, CDPHE says outdoor settings allow the droplets of the virus to disperse into low concentrations quickly.

The outdoor seating is still a better option than solely to-go orders, according to Schnakenberg. But, he did call it frustrating to keep up with the evolving restrictions throughout the year. "As much as we try to be innovative and come up with new ideas to make things work, it seems like they just come back with more," said Schnakenberg.

He also said his customers have expressed their distaste for the new model. "They really feel for the restaurant. They think that this should be up to the customers... Our number one concern is to keep our customers safe and healthy and happy," said Schnakenberg.

Still, Schnakenberg said the goal is to stay open, and keep some money in their employee's pockets. "We would love to be open, we would love to take care of our customers, and we are going to be really excited for that day."