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A few hints to make winter dining more appetizing "Dark restaurants are appealing ... but sometimes a person has to read the menu."

Welcome to winter, restaurateurs. As the snow falls, as the winds howl, and as television weather specialists forecast the incipient appearance of World War III, there are several steps you can take to make your patrons comfortable.

* You can provide adequate coat hanging space, for example.

In all too many places, we customers have no choice but to drape our bulky down encasements on the back of our chairs. This does two things: one, it makes the dining room look like a sordid mess; and two, it forces said customer to sit bumpily.

So how about a good sized coat rack, you guys? Placing it in a fairly warm spot would be a nice touch but is not absolutely necessary.

* You can try to block the drafts.

Maybe, dear readers, you're like us -- you always seem to get the table next to the front door. Yes, yes, it's true. Someone has to fill it.

But still there are things a restaurant can do to lessen the pain. One restaurant I'm thinking of puts velvet-like heavy draperies over the entrance. It looks glamorous, and it's kind of fun to pop through like a rabbit out of a hat. Even a little tap dancing would not be out of order.

Many others have added vestibules to the front door. Some are temporary canvas or plastic. And sometimes, even a paneled screen can be tucked in to block a draft or two. Use some imagination.

* You can shovel the front walk. And you can also sprinkle it with salt or sand.

You might even cut a path through the drifts to the street so that customers can be dropped off. That way they won't arrive all breathless and shaky. Or even worse -- and God forbid -- litigious.

* You can mop the floors when the puddles collect. Another safety issue and an aesthetic one as well, pools of dirty snow melt do not stimulate the appetite.

* Finally, this suggestion may be reaching a little, but it gets dark early now, so it deserves some space: You can do something about your illumination.

Dark restaurants are appealing; dark restaurants are sexy. We couldn't agree more, but sometimes a person has to read the menu.

I get lots of mail about this, so I know it's an issue. And it's not just elderly patrons who are affected by this; the age of visual acuity seems to decrease every year. (Or maybe the number of dark restaurants increases.) That must be the reason why a whole cottage industry in lighted magnifiers has developed.

I use one myself, a klutzy thing, and I wish I didn't have to drag it along. (If you can't do anything about the overall illumination, maybe you could keep some of these helpful devices on hand. Discreet size would be appreciated.)

Still, I do want to add one more thing before I go because, as noted above, 'tis the season.

All things considered, the women and men in local restaurants do an exceptional job. It's one of the world's most difficult professions -- they deserve thanks and they deserve smiles.

I wish them prosperity and a year without TV weather hype, too.

Merry Christmas.


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