Viron Rondos was taking calls from customers trying to make reservations the day Gov. Ned Lamont announced restaurants may be able to reopen outdoor dining on May 20.
The Cheshire restaurateur added 200 outdoor seats to his Highland Avenue restaurant late last year. He’s been doing takeout and delivery operations and was encouraged by the reopening plan announced Thursday.
For many restaurants though, outdoor-only dining could be more trouble than its worth, especially if the business has been completely shuttered since Lamont ordered non-essential operations to cease.
“Being able to put six tables outside on your patio, it’s not really helpful,” said Cheryl Moran, owner of Anthony Jack’s and Tavern 42 in Southington. “For most businesses in my experience, it would not even be worth it.”
Limited reopen encouraging, but prompts questions
On Thursday, Lamont laid out conditions under which retail, barbers, some outdoor recreation and other businesses could reopen. If there’s adequate testing, contact tracing and declining hospitalizations for coronavirus, he’ll allow businesses to reopen with some restrictions.
For restaurants, it will mean outdoor-only dining. Restaurant owners assume that also means tables have to be spaced at least six feet apart, limiting how many people can fit on patios.
Even if he can’t get the full 200 seats he normally would, Rondos said he could serve a lot of customers outdoors.
“We are looking forward to it, we’ve very happy to hear the news,” he said. “Me and my entire staff are looking forward to going back to work.”
Viron Rondo has been offering takeout and delivery services and the owner said customers have stuck with them. He’s not yet taking reservations since he wants to wait and make sure the limited reopening does occur. There are also questions about how to implement outdoor dining and what restrictions the state will put on it.
“We don’t have any official guidelines yet from the governor or the local health department,” Rondos said.
’Not worth it’ for many businesses
Tavern 42 has been closed since March and isn’t doing takeout or delivery. When she closed, Moran gave away the remaining food to employees and only the alcohol remains.
To start up, the restaurant would need a large food order and to bring back staff. With unemployment now paying an extra $600 on top of what a worker would have normally gotten, Moran said it’s hard to convince employees to come back.
“I don’t blame some of them for saying, ‘No, I’m good,’” Moran said.
With only room for a few tables on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, Moran said it’d be hard to make back the money it takes to restock the kitchen and bring back staff. She said the plan was a gesture from the governor towards reopening, but probably won’t be used by many businesses.
“Let’s get to the point where we can do limited capacity inside, because that’s going to be hard enough,” Moran said.
Anthony Jack’s, which has been operating, may do outdoor dining although Moran hasn’t yet made that decision.
Up to the customers
Town economic leaders said reopening ultimately depends on whether residents feel safe going out to eat.
Business owners have to contend with unknown demand and fickle weather in reopening outdoor dining, according to Lou Perillo, the town’s economic development coordinator.
Barbara Hekeler-Coleman, Southington Chamber of Commerce president, said she’s been impressed with the measures restaurants have taken to ensure safety with takeout and delivery. Outdoor dining may be a way to restore customers’ confidence.
“What is the mindset of our consumers? Are people going to be receptive of coming and patronizing (businesses)?” she said. “Outside dining is a good way to test that in general.”