As If Restaurants Didn't Have Enough To Worry About, Now Thieves Are Stealing Their Heaters

Though Twitter has been collectively (and accurately) bemoaning what has felt like the longest February ever, spring really is just around the corner. The official start of the season is March 20, less than a month away, and areas of the country pummeled by snow and cold are finally seeing some thaw. But however long February has felt to the rest of us, it's been doubly hard on restaurant owners, whose reliance on outdoor dining during the pandemic is hobbled by icy temperatures. It doesn't help that their damn outdoor heaters keep getting stolen, on top of everything else.

Jenny G. Zhang at Eater describes the recent rash of heater thefts plaguing restaurants around the country. As demand for outdoor heaters surged last fall and winter—both for at-home backyard use and to warm up outdoor dining patios—thieves saw an opportunity to sell something newly valuable on the secondary market. Between the appliances themselves and the propane tanks that fuels them, stolen outdoor heaters can cost a restaurant well over $1,000 in losses. (Many if not most were secured by chains and bike locks, but these measures failed to prevent overnight theft.) The business owners who spoke to Eater expressed profound disappointment.

"We were pretty gutted that ... with restaurants being such a beleaguered industry during the pandemic, that people would even think to rob a restaurant," says Ping Ho, owner of Detroit butcher shop and restaurant Marrow, which had six heat lamps and propane gas tanks stolen off its patio when the restaurant was closed for Thanksgiving. "It just felt like a double whammy, given everything that we had already been trying to get through."

As Zhang points out, the loss of outdoor heaters can compound a restaurant's woes, because fewer heat sources means fewer desirable seats on the patio.

And, yes, outdoor heaters have emerged on the secondary market like clockwork, popping up with inflated prices on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. The stolen heaters are very likely among them. Yet as restaurants have posted about these thefts, many businesses have seen their communities rally around them, supporting them with the purchase of gift cards and in some cases replacing the heaters. Hopefully the winter is nearly behind us and these restaurants can continue doing what they do best—and then, maybe soon after, the worst of the pandemic will be behind us, too.