GASTONIA, NC — If you’re an hvacr contractor who specializes in restaurant work — especially restaurants that offer outdoor seating — here’s a product application that could help boost your customers’ profits, as well as your own.

Just as restaurants in Arizona use evaporative cooling misters on their patios to cool customers during the hottest months of the year, two unitized, low-intensity, gas-fired infrared tube heaters are helping a Hickory Hams restaurant here create a warm, comfortable atmosphere for patrons to enjoy their meals on the restaurant’s patio.

Use of the heaters increases the restaurant’s seating capacity by 40%, from 75 to 111 during cooler months, while allowing minimal waiting time before patrons are seated.

The two LTU90 infrared tube heaters from Space-Ray (Charlotte, NC), each with a 90,000-Btuh capacity, are mounted horizontally and end-to-end, above the outside eating area and in view of the customers. The heaters are normally used from October to March and can be manually adjusted to the desired temperature, which averages 68°F.

Patios: Useless When Cold

Marion H. Davis Jr., president of Hickory Hams, said he decided to purchase the heaters for his patio to better serve his customers and increase his business. He said that before the heaters were installed, the restaurant’s patio was completely useless when it was cold outside.

Davis also pointed out that on several occasions, he couldn’t accommodate all the people who wanted to dine at his restaurant.

“Our sales potential was really affected during cooler months because our outside eating area seats 36 people. Now when it’s cool outside and the heaters are on, often times we fill up the patio before the inside area, which seats 75,” he said. “Customers are amazed at how warm they are under the heaters when it’s 30° outside.”

Davis pointed out that the heaters are effective as long as it’s not raining or too windy outside.

Another advantage to having the tube heaters on the patio is the fact that since they are placed near the windows of the restaurant, infrared heat is transmitted through the windows which helps heat the inside eating area.

“In the cooler months, I don’t even have to run the heat on that side of the building because the heaters do the job from the outside,” Davis noted. “That reduces my electric bill and produces more uniform heat throughout the restaurant. I have definitely already gotten a return on my investment.

“We are also constantly getting compliments from our customers about the comfort of the patio eating area during cool weather,” he added.

How The Heaters Work

Unlike forced-air heating, which works from the top down, radiant gas heat works from the bottom up, warming floors, people, and machines first.

Well-suited for covered restaurant patio applications, these low-intensity tube heaters feature a self-contained draft inducer that pulls the products of combustion through the combustion chamber for increased radiant efficiency and safety. A step-opening combination gas valve provides for quiet ignition, says the company.

Safety is enhanced, the manufacturer states, by the closed combustion chamber design and direct-spark ignition system with 100% safety shutoff control. Moreover, these heaters are not affected by outdoor environmental conditions such as strong gusts of wind, the company adds, since the flame is totally enclosed in the combustion chamber. Bon appétit!