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Rampant heater theft is the latest hit for outdoor dining

On the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, early in the morning, the heat lamps at McGillin’s Olde Ale House were stolen. At a time when outdoor heating can mean the difference between a restaurant that survived the winter or a permanent formwork, these lamps, as the thief probably knew, were more valuable than cash.

Footage from a nearby security camera showed a person slowly driving a white pickup truck down the street next to McGillin’s outdoor restaurant, a block and a half from the pub. It was after 1 a.m. and a cold, snowy night; The street was empty. According to McGillin’s owner, Chris Mullins, who reviewed the footage, it looked like the perpetrator was taking the time to avoid attracting attention. After turning back on foot to cut the bike locks securing the heaters, the thief stopped in the pickup and threw four heaters in the back before driving off. Between the cost of the heat lamps and the propane to fire them, the restaurant cost about $ 1,500.

Theft of heaters is another concern for restaurants and other businesses, due to COVID-19 security measures and restrictions, which now rely on outdoor service while indoor is banned. Thefts have been reported by Portland to Sacramento to Aurora, influence Ramen shops, Breweries, tas restaurants, and more. Restaurant operators are aware, thanks to discussions in the industry, that this is increasing across the country.

„If it’s not locked in your building, it’s almost open game to criminals,” says Mullin, who knows of two other companies near McGillin’s that had their outdoor heaters stolen. „They are just about everywhere and every restaurant now needs some to survive.”

For restaurant owners, stealing their heaters directly from the patio or street is an insult to injury in an already excruciating year that spanned between trying to survive COVID-19 and the financial devastation it caused without much help from the Government.

„We were pretty disappointed that … since restaurants were such a distressed industry during the pandemic that people would even consider robbing a restaurant,” said Ping Ho, owner of Detroit’s Marrow butcher and restaurant, the Six Heat lamps and propane had tanks were stolen from the terrace when the restaurant was closed for Thanksgiving. „It just felt like a one-two punch given everything we’d already tried to get through.”

Many restaurants have already had to buy heaters at inflated prices due to increased demand, as temperatures began to drop last autumn. Marrow’s stolen property was valued at approximately $ 1,400. Saginaw Old Town Junction, a restaurant in Saginaw, Michigan, lost approximately $ 1,100 on February 1 to the theft of three high-powered heaters – two of which were almost brand new. Insa, a Korean grill restaurant in Brooklyn, suffered a loss of $ 1,400 in the theft of eight heaters in late January.

However, the financial burden goes beyond the cost of the equipment itself. With fewer heaters, restaurants cannot accommodate as many customers outdoors. For restaurants that don’t have indoor service or don’t have robust takeout or delivery options, this essentially takes away most of the revenue. Filing an insurance claim – which requires a police report – can help offset some of the loss of income and the cost of stolen property. But between the insurance policy deductible and the resulting increased premium over the next year, what recovers is usually a fraction of the actual loss or, for some restaurants like McGillin’s, not even worth pursuing.

„That was very bad for us in terms of outdoor dining income, which is very important,” said Insa boss and partner Yong Shin. Though alfresco dining has come with its own set of challenges, including employees struggling with cold weather and customers often not putting their masks on servers, „income is critical to us at this point,” says Shin.

For Tony Krasinski, owner of Saginaw Old Town Junction, the prospect of losing business due to a lack of heating was not an option. „If you don’t have heat, you won’t have customers and I have to keep my people working,” he says. “We all need money. we all have to survive. “Within a day, he had bought two more heaters to replace the stolen ones, although he had to drive to a town 30 minutes away to buy them.

Even finding replacement heaters can be difficult. Many large retailers, like Walmart and Lowe’s, had completely sold out heat lamps in early fall, recalls Ho. Mullins says he had to order from multiple vendors months in advance. Even now, he says, there is a limit to the number of outdoor heaters customers can buy from his local home depot, such as when stores used to ration toilets per towel during the pandemic.

Of course, according to restaurant operators, a market for heat lamps has emerged with inflated prices on websites such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Craigslist. „These people probably saw my impression as an opportunity,” says Ho. „It’s the type of person who bought as many face masks and hand sanitizer as possible. I think there were a lot of people who made money during the pandemic. „

These secondary marketplaces could be the ultimate target for some of these stolen heaters, some operators suggest. „They’re a hot commodity with high demand,” says Mullins. „You go up and down the street, you could probably sell them straight from the back of your truck.”

The replacement heaters that restaurants end up buying need better security to prevent the same crime from being repeated. For some restaurants, this means buying stronger locks and chains. For others, this means that the heaters are kept every night at the end of operation before being brought out again the next day. It’s safer, but it’s also more work for teams that are already overwhelmed.

“We chain them up differently, we have to move them every night, we have to keep them. We have to work more so that it won’t stop again, ”says Krasinski.

A silver lining, as some restaurant owners describe, is the support of their communities that have rallied behind them. After this Ticketing About the theft on social media and asking customers to buy gift cards to help the restaurant, Marrow sold more gift cards than ever before in a period of two days. Between those purchases and some donations, the restaurant was able to pay the cost of three replacement heaters that friends drove to the suburbs to pick up after seeing a Facebook list.

Mullins and Krasinski also thanked friends, customers and colleagues in the industry for their support. Other restaurants have even made an effort to offer them the use of their outdoor heaters – a generous gesture that Mullin says says a lot about the restaurant industry.

It remains to be seen whether or not any of their stolen heaters will ever be recovered, but for some restaurant operators, it’s better to accept whatever has shrunk and leave the past behind.

„This is just a reminder that there are people who are more desperate than we are,” says Ho generously. „When we think about it like that, we feel a little better – that the person who stole us probably needed it more.”

While the theft is unfortunate, it is just another example of the hand that restaurants have given during the pandemic. „We’ve been through so much, but we’re going to make it,” says Mullins. „Hopefully within a few months this will just be a nightmare that we got past.”