Outdoor Portable Propane Heaters: Great Way To Extend Outdoor Dining

As restaurants, country clubs, and other hospitality businesses reopen and adapt to restrictions on indoor seating, many will be making greater use of outdoor spaces. Adding outdoor seating also requires providing heat for diners’ comfort, to extend the seasons and the hours that these outdoor facilities can operate.
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For propane marketers, this creates an opportunity to provide a solution in the form of portable propane heaters. For each customer in the hospitality industry, the marketers can provide a complete package of products, fuel, and service.

“The propane marketer can be a real asset to hospitality businesses by helping them open safely and stay in business by expanding their outdoor spaces, by keeping customers warm,” says Pete Arnold. “Propane umbrella-domed heaters are a great solution for those who need outdoor heat.”

Arnold is president of AEI Corp. (Irvine, Calif.), which has been a distributor of outdoor cooking and patio heating products for consumers and commercial customers since 1966. The products distributed by AEI include Sunglo and Patio Comfort outdoor infrared patio heaters. Sunglo is a line of super-duty heaters for commercial use; Patio Comfort is a line of value-priced heaters that are not as heavy duty, but still heavier than those found in big-box stores.

He explains that a high-quality, freestanding, umbrella domed heater generally provides a 12-ft to 15-ft circle of heat. For outdoor use, infrared heat is superior to heat provided by a flame. A flame heats the surrounding air and the heat rises; infrared rays warm people and objects, not the air. Arnold explains that it’s like the sun’s rays; if people are in the sun, not the shade, they will feel the warmth.

An advantage of propane-fueled units is that they are fully portable. “You can move the heat to where the people are; you don’t have to move the people to where the heat is,” Arnold notes. Another advantage is that propane-fueled units are generally the lowest-initial cost solution for outdoor heat. Upfront costs are lower than permanently installed heaters powered by natural gas or electricity.

Propane marketers providing this solution can profit by selling or leasing a reliable product; providing onsite service, if needed; and delivering the propane. They will generally lease the heaters for $50 to $75 a month; charge for full maintenance; and provide cylinder exchange for $15 to $25.

Propane marketers can either sell or lease the heaters to commercial customers. When selecting the heaters to carry, they should look for products that are safe, effective, and durable. They should also select a supplier that is in business 365 days a year; is covered by liability insurance; supplies product, sales, and service training; and provides immediate availability of parts.

Marketers can provide onsite service for the heaters, if needed. To do so, they will need to have ready access to parts. “Replacement parts are critical,” Arnold says. “Restaurant owners want the heater fixed today. If the heater doesn’t work, customers are going to be cold and the restaurant is not going to be able to seat customers in outdoor spaces.”

Once the heaters are in use, the marketer can provide the propane cylinder exchange. Outdoor portable propane heaters use 20-lb cylinders that are housed in their base. A high-quality heater generating maximum infrared rays will consume between 40,000 Btus and 45,000 Btus per hour. A 20-lb propane cylinder holds 400,000 Btus. So, the cylinder will fuel 10 hours of use. If a restaurant uses the heaters from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every evening, each heater will need a refill every two days. “If they have a dozen heaters, that is a significant opportunity for propane marketers,” Arnold notes.

“We believe that even when the pandemic passes, eating outdoors will be a continuing trend as well as a continuing opportunity for marketers to provide the product, fuel, and service,” he concludes. “We think customers will want to stay outdoors and stay warm.” — Steve Relyea