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For restaurants that can afford them, outdoor air conditioners are the latest pandemic pivot

As New York City settles into the slowest period of the summer season, some restaurant owners are once again on the back foot, shelling out thousands of dollars to outfit their outdoor dining structures with air conditioning units and other cooling devices.

For those can afford them, air conditioners have become the latest pandemic pivot, a bid to keep outdoor dining structures cool, even as their windows and doors stay open to combat the spread of coronavirus. Jason Yim, director of operations at Osamil in Koreatown, purchased two air conditioning units — totaling nearly $3,000 after installation fees — in late April, even before temperatures had started to rise.

“I went through the time period when customers were complaining that it was too cold,” Yim says. “I knew that when the summer comes they were going to complain that it’s too hot.” The Korean gastropub runs its air conditioning units during dinner service and the windows and doors of the outdoor structure remain open the whole time.“ It doesn’t really make sense,” he says, but then again, neither has most of the past year.

As New York City settles into the slowest period of the summer season, some restaurant owners are once again on the back foot, shelling out thousands of dollars to outfit their outdoor dining structures with air conditioning units and other cooling devices.

For those can afford them, air conditioners have become the latest pandemic pivot, a bid to keep outdoor dining structures cool, even as their windows and doors stay open to combat the spread of coronavirus. Jason Yim, director of operations at Osamil in Koreatown, purchased two air conditioning units — totaling nearly $3,000 after installation fees — in late April, even before temperatures had started to rise.

“I went through the time period when customers were complaining that it was too cold,” Yim says. “I knew that when the summer comes they were going to complain that it’s too hot.” The Korean gastropub runs its air conditioning units during dinner service and the windows and doors of the outdoor structure remain open the whole time.“ It doesn’t really make sense,” he says, but then again, neither has most of the past year.

Left to compete with the summer heat, Yim estimates running his two air conditioners has increased Osamil’s electricity bill by $800 per month. Payal Sharma, owner of Baar Baar in the East Village, says the two water coolers and roughly 20 fans powering her outdoor setup have caused her electricity bill to “skyrocket.”

The sheer cost of cooling units, which can range from $400 to $4,000, is more than many independent restaurant owners can afford, and some restaurateurs who previously invested in enclosed outdoor spaces have had to get creative. American Brass in Long Island City turned one of its outdoor dining greenhouse into an actual greenhouse after realizing that the structures would not be usable in the summer heat, according to a spokesperson for the restaurant.

Others are looking at the units as a long-term investment for future summers of outdoor dining. “That structure is going to stay no matter what,” Sharma says of the outdoor setup at Baar Baar. The restaurateur has outfitted her outdoor dining space with two water cooling units, which she received in July after a months-long backorder. The coolers cost $4,000 each before installation and electrical fees. It’s expensive, she says, but a small price to pay after the thousands of dollars she’s already sunk into the outdoor structure, including roughly $13,000 on individual heaters this past winter.

“This is a never-ending development,” she says. “You just keep going and going and going until something new pops up.” Eater NY

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