Say goodbye to outdoor patio season as wintry weather arrives

Jim Davis, left, and David Griffin, of St. Paul, took advantage of sunshine and the above-40 degree temperature to dine on the patio at Sea Salt Eatery in Minnehaha Park on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. (MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

It’s pretty slow these days at Sea Salt, the Minneapolis seafood eatery located just steps away from Minnehaha Falls.

Sea Salt stays open through October in part to help accommodate an annual Halloween event put on by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. But Bill Blood, Sea Salt’s manager, says few customers have had an appetite for the restaurant’s outdoor tables.

“To be honest, we were just asking ourselves last week why we stay open that late,” he said. “This week has been our worst stretch since April when we had snow all over the ground.”

With rain and temperatures only in the 40s in the forecast for this weekend, looks like it’s time to say goodbye to outdoor patio season.

The turn in the weather can be tough for restaurants that are famous for their outdoor seating.

“During the summer, 99 percent of our seating is outside,” Blood said.

Sea Salt crams a few more tables indoors when the weather turns, but as a seasonal restaurant it’s just a matter of counting down until the closing date, which this year is Oct. 27. Restaurants open year-round have had to get a little more creative.

“Now we have to focus on the inside and make it cozy and warm and make people feel like they’re still in a tropical paradise,” said Shannon Weed, general manager of northeast Minneapolis bar and eatery Psycho Suzi’s, which has a patio that overlooks the Mississippi River and seats 333 people.

“It’s like adding a whole new restaurant,” Weed said, adding that most of the patio chairs and tables will come down by Nov. 1. She said the restaurant does try to preserve part of its identity during the winter months by keeping some outdoor tables — equipped with heaters — out for the die-hards.

“We do have customers who come in snowsuits,” Weed said. “It’s a very special customer that really enjoys the Minnesota snow.”

Other restaurants mark the transition from outdoor patio season simply by using more of their indoor space. At St. Paul’s Muffuletta Cafe, for example, the staff use a private dining room more often during the winter months to help accommodate the loss of outdoor seating.

Muffuletta Manager Ben Amundson says the restaurant is still using its outdoor tables for lunch on sunny days. But he says the outdoor tables will be gone in the next couple of weeks.

“We’re just holding out for those last few really nice days,” he said.

The patio at Kincaid’s in downtown St. Paul sits empty during the lunch hour on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)