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Portland restaurants prepare for winter months

Maine restaurants are finding ways to try to survive another winter by offering heated outdoor dining and takeout opportunities.

PORTLAND, Maine — This time of year, do you debate ordering food delivery versus braving the elements to go out for a bite to eat? 

For many Maine restaurants, the holidays and winter months are the hardest time to make ends meet. For that reason, many restaurants have found ways to offer outdoor dining options while still keeping customers warm. 

Stephen Brantley, owner of Ri Ra Irish Pub in the Old Port and Wilson County Barbecue in Portland's West Bayside neighborhood, said he learned a lot last year about the resiliency of Maine people and their willingness to sit outside no matter how cold the weather may be.

"The difference between the Old Port and here is very different," Brantley said of West Bayside. "For us, this time of year is actually a busier time because it's mostly locals here."

Seasonal restaurants around Maine have closed by now, making for fewer dining options. Brantley said his Old Port business does better in the summer due to tourism, while his West Bayside location is busier in the winter due to the locals.

Other places in Maine have seen this as well. Todd Dana owns El Rayo and said he sees local crowds at his Portland and Scarborough locations this time of year.

"Customer profile changes a little bit in the summer; we see a lot of visitors and tourists. But in the winter, it's our local crowd," Dana explained.

Several restaurants across Maine went all-in on trying to make an outdoor area to bring customers in.

"We have 3 fire pits lit outside almost every night," Brantley said.

Dana said they have heated outdoor dining as well as winter specials to try to bring more people in and send them home with full bellies. 

Takeout is another way to support local businesses. Owners said to-go orders were key to their establishments' survival during COVID-19 and the winter months.

"It's definitely been a struggle, particularly the pandemic," Brantley said. "That first year of the pandemic was very hard."

Brantley and Dana both said takeout and delivery are a huge part of business, and they've seen it spike during the winter months.

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