It’s freezing out and maybe you’re not ready for indoor dining just yet. So now what? A full winter of takeout and home-cooked meals?

Well, perhaps not. Local restaurants have found creative ways to keep outdoor dining going through our first full pandemic winter – investing in private igloo and greenhouse dining options.

The Bloomfield Steak and Seafood House is one those restaurants, offering 15 heated igloo bubbles and four greenhouses for private “outdoor” dining.

Bloomfield Steak and Seafood House igloo dining

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” said owner Andrea Johnson.

The igloos seat two to three people and the greenhouses can hold four to eight people. But do those flimsy looking igloos really provide a decent dining experience?

Waitress in front of igloo diningActually, yes! The igloos hold heat surprisingly well and can withstand some decently strong winds — offering a warm and comfortable dining experience, regardless of the temperature outside.

So how does it work? Igloo diners will place orders with their server simply by speaking though the plastic – no unzipping necessary – and it’s quite easy to hear and communicate. The only time slight unzipping of the igloo will take place is when the servers are bringing out meals. A little bit of teamwork is needed as the server will never step inside the igloo, so the diners will have to do some grabbing and passing around of plates.

“The calls don’t stop. We’re seeing a lot of faces that we haven’t seen this whole time or that we’ve only seen with to-go orders because they are too scared or uncomfortable to sit inside,” Johnson said.

Igloo dining at Bloomfield Steak and Seafood HouseIt is important to note however, that igloo dining at the Bloomfield Steak and Seafood House comes with a $5 propane fee, a 20 percent gratuity included on the bill and is limited to 1.5 hours per reservation.

“Everyone’s just been really excited to be here and be able to be out,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile over on Glenridge Avenue in Montclair, Saluté Bistro has also joined in on the outdoor dining pivot, offering four heated greenhouses for diners.

“I actually custom-built them so that they were off the cement sidewalk so that people’s feet didn’t get cold,” said owner Gerry Cerrigone. Cerrigone was nervous about the unknowns regarding capacities and indoor dining, so the greenhouses provided a way for him to continue to serve more customers.

“It’s been great. People appreciate the fact that they’re isolated from others if they’re susceptible to COVID-19,” Cerrigone said. “We use them every single night. No matter what the temperature is, they stay warm. I think it’s really nice and I think it’s a great thing for Montclair.”

Salute greenhouses
Salute Bistro offers four heated greenhouses. (Instagram photo: @salutebistro)

The greenhouses are here to stay even when the pandemic subsides, says Cerrigone. He plans to use them next winter season and even potentially expand on the greenhouse offerings for a cozy “outdoor” experience during the cold winter months.

There are no additional charges for greenhouse diners and no minimum number of guests required, according to Cerrigone.

“With the limitations on where people can even go for dinner, I just want people to be able to come out and enjoy themselves,” he said.

Bubble dining on Church Street at Fresco Da Franco.

Fresco Da Franco on Church Street is another Montclair restaurant offering bubble dining. Other local eateries sporting igloos include Bloom in Verona and Calandra’s Mediterranean Grill in Fairfield.

In addition to offering a socially distant, outdoor alternative, igloo dining also lets you have a romantic, “dining under the stars” experience, in a cozy bubble with your special someone.

Bloom in Verona (Instagram)