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East Meadow restaurants brace for winter

As temperatures drop, will outdoor dining remain an option?

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As winter approaches, restaurants in East Meadow are looking for ways to keep serving diners outdoors — a method that has not only increased their capacity, but also relieved many guests’ concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Outdoor dining is critical to the sustainability of businesses, as I’m sure most restaurants are realizing,” said Dave Boller, an owners of Garden Social in East Meadow.

Before the eatery reopened on June 24, Boller launched an online survey on its Facebook page that helped guide his decisions about new safety measures and dining options. Roughly 750 respondents answered a series of questions about their fears, hopes and expectations when it came to dining out. Boller found that many were eager to do so, though 86 percent said they would be anxious if they didn’t see any evidence of enhanced safety.

When Garden Social reopened its indoor dining area, it installed an air-filtration system built by AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, Conn. The system emits ions into the air that bind to contaminants and neutralize them, according to the company.

“We’re doing everything we can to make people feel comfortable again,” Boller said. “People can come in and feel secure and safe, in addition to the mask-wearing and hand sanitizing.”

Throughout the winter, Garden Social plans to serve guests in its outdoor dining area, adjacent to the building. In order to do so, Boller turned to a Farmingdale company called Preferred Events Tents, which is providing a temporary enclosure as well as a propane-powered heating system that blows hot air into it.

“It’s a major expense, but a necessary investment,” Boller said, adding that he looked into other heating systems, but only found ones that radiate heat in a confined space rather than circulating it.

Although Ciro’s Pizza, in East Meadow, has less space outside, it remains a popular destination for indoor dining, and keeps busy with takeout and delivery service as well. “The community was great to us and still supported us during the pandemic,” said owner Michael Clara. “We’ve been doing takeout and curbside throughout the pandemic. Then our dining room reopened over the summer, and slowly but surely, it’s been picking up again.”

Ciro’s is operating at 40 to 45 percent capacity, closing every other booth to allow for social distancing. The restaurant has been in East Meadow for 24 years, and was half the size it is now when it opened. After Clara bought it in 2000, he expanded. His brother, Frank, operates another Ciro’s, in Glen Head, and the original restaurant, which opened in Floral Park in 1975, is managed by partners of the Claras.

Roughly 50 guests dined in the outdoor seating section of Borrelli’s, in East Meadow, and listened to live music last Saturday night. The temperature was in the high 60s, and owner Frank Borrelli said he was hoping for more days like that one during the winter. Borrelli’s has been operating at two-thirds capacity, including the outdoor area, which is enclosed by a wood fence and will depend on space heaters when the weather gets cold. It is uncovered, however, offering no protection from rain or wind.

As long as the weather permits, Borrelli said, he plans to keep it open. “It’s going to be tough,” he said, adding that the restaurant will not see its typical increase in guests for holiday parties or from events at Nassau Coliseum.

“There aren’t going to be a lot of events in the area, so we have to start creating our own,” he said, explaining that he plans to offer live comedy shows and is considering other sit-down events in its dining area to generate more business. “We’re going to take it one day at a time,” Borrelli said, “and we’re not giving up.”