With the area experiencing an unusually cold and rainy summer so far, outdoor dining establishments have been forced to adjust. Some have even bought Snuggies, body-length sleeved blankets, to help keep their customers outside.

“Did we expect this kind of summer? Absolutely not,” said Nick Gambino, co-owner of Cucina Paradiso, 814 North Blvd. “We were expecting summer the way it’s been the last three or four years.”

May started off the outdoor dining season OK, actually. Dennis Murphy, owner of Poor Phil’s Restaurant and Bar, 139 S. Marion, says it was his best May in 25 years of business.

“I’m feeling pretty good about May,” Murphy said. “Then June comes along, first two weeks, unbelievable, record cold, unbelievably cold, followed by unbelievably wet.”

According to weather.com, Oak Park averages highs of 81 degrees in June and lows of 61 degrees. But this past June, temperatures averaged a high of 77 degrees (and that included several straight 90-degree days) and a low of 60.

About 5.15 inches of rain fell in June, above the average of 4.16. Meanwhile in July, things haven’t gotten much better. Temperatures have averaged a high of 75 degrees and a low of 61. That’s well below the average high of 85 and low of 66.

Gambino, who opened a 36-seat patio out in front in May, said the weather has forced him into a balancing act. He has kept wait staff on call for the outdoor portion because he doesn’t want them to show up and not have any customers. At the same time, he wants to have staff on hand in case things clear up.

“Like with anything that you do outside, it’s a gamble because you’re dealing with things that you don’t have control over,” he said. “The days we have been open, it’s been good.”

He estimated the patio has stayed closed half of the time since it opened in May. He’s optimistic things will be looking up for the rest of the outdoor dining season.

“It’s like anything, things are going in cycles,” Gambino said. “You’re always going to have decent summers, and you’re always going to have a summer that’s rough.”

Dennis Miller, manager at the Avenue Ale House (825 S. Oak Park), says the weather has affected the eatery’s 120-seat rooftop garden. But if people show up, they’ll eat regardless of whether it’s inside or outside. The poor economy hasn’t helped the equation, he added.

The Ale House also calls off staff if rain is in the forecast.

“If it rains, you’re screwed; if it’s sunny, you’re happy,” Miller said. “It’s really simple.” But he added, “My gut feeling is we’re going to have a warm September and October.”

Louise Mihalik, co-owner of Lido’s Caffé, 122 N. Marion, says the 12 outdoors seats in front of her business are important to attracting pedestrians off Lake Street.

“We had higher expectations,” she said of this summer. “But with the economy, realistically, I think it could be worse. We have a lot of people closing down.”

On the flipside, she said the cool weather can help push some hot beverages.

“When it’s cold, there’s nothing like a hot cappuccino,” Mihalik said. “So we’re hoping we could have the best of both worlds.”

Todd Gunderson, director of operations for Maya Del Sol (144 S. Oak Park), said nobody in the restaurant business expected a summer like this. Maya opened a 110-seat backdoor patio last summer.

They try to keep the outside open, regardless of the elements, and usher people inside if it starts pouring.

“It’s becomes almost like a party because everybody just grabs their plate and finds a spot inside,” he said.

Maya has been trying to stay one step ahead of the elements. They’ve been offering blankets to chilly customers since the patio opened and more recently started offering Snuggies. They’re also considering putting a Web camera and temperature gauge outside to show customers what’s happening.

People show up spur of the moment after the rain stops. Gunderson said some people walk through the door and ask how the weather is on the patio.

“It’s always kind of funny to answer [that] it’s pretty much just as warm as when you walked in from out there,” he said.

Dennis Murphy of Poor Phil’s, which seats 100 outside, says extremely hot weather affects outdoor dining, too. Customers would just as soon stay in the air conditioning and have a margarita, not sit and sweat on a sidewalk.

Losing business at an outdoor café because of weather hurts because someone isn’t going to come back and buy two meals a few days later, he added. But Murphy says he’s seen worse summers and better summers after opening the first outdoor eating area in Oak Park.

“I was the first sidewalk café, and now you can hardly walk on a sidewalk without tipping over a table,” he said.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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