OWOSSO — When the weather outside is frightful and state COVID-19 rules say no indoor dining, there’s only one thing to do — move the party outside.

That’s exactly what Niche Bar & Lounge has done, setting up two “Niche shanties” on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, 112 N. Washington St.

“After all the craziness that’s happened, I think this is the new world,” Niche Manager Joe Yerian said Wednesday. “People will say, ‘It’s winter. Let’s go eat inside the ice shanty.’”

The shanties — heated, back-colored tents purchased for $200 to $600 online — have become such a big hit with customers, Niche is adding a third and possibly a fourth and fifth, if permission can be obtained by city of Owosso officials to block off a couple of parking spaces out front to make room for more, he said.

With a ban on indoor dining in effect, Niche is currently offering only shanty dining, and takeout meals and beverages.

“We kicked the idea of the shanties around and decided it’s either do something like this or close at the end of the year,” Yerian said, adding the shanties were completely booked on Wednesday.

Shanty customers have to follow a few rules. Reservations are made via the Niche Facebook page. A shanty can be booked for 90 minutes at a time Thursday through Sunday.

A table inside a shanty seats no more than six people, who must be from the same household. To maintain safety, no “shanty hopping” is allowed.

There’s a $100 deposit, applied to a $100 minimum dinner bill. A 20-percent service charge is added to the bill.

Yerian, who has heard a handful of complaints about the $100 minimum, pointed out that $100 is not a huge amount for a party of six.

“That’s a burger and two beers each,” he said. “Cheap.”

Face masks must be worn when walking to the shanty or restroom. During the 30 minutes between reservations, a Niche employee will clear out and sanitize the interior of the shanty before setting up for the next group, Yerian said.

The Niche shanties will be set up all winter, he said.

The city of Durand, too, has gotten in on the outdoor dining action, recently authorizing the purchase of two 10-by-10-foot “domes” for use by eateries in the downtown area.

Questions? Call Niche at (989) 272-8789.

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