Three months of warm summer weather helped many restaurants stay afloat, as state regulations due to COVID-19 allowed businesses to expand outdoor dining options.
Now with the crisp fall weather, restaurant owners are weighing their options on whether to continue serving patrons outdoors.
The Wallingford Town Council amended an ordinance Tuesday night on outdoor sidewalk dining to extend the season from March 1 to Nov. 30. Before the change, sidewalk dining was allowed from April 1 to Oct. 31.
Local restaurants are mixed on whether they plan to take advantage of the newly expanded outdoor sidewalk dining season.
Paul Norton, general manger of Archie Moore’s Bar and Restaurant, 39 N. Main St., said earlier this month that he would “absolutely” take advantage of the extra time for sidewalk dining.
He’s already purchased six tower heaters to keep the outdoor area warm as long as possible.
Across the street in Simpson Court, Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, 40 N. Main St., and Half Moon Cafe, 50 N. Main St., are taking up some parking spaces directly in front of their businesses to accommodate expanded outdoor seating.
Gaetano’s set up an outdoor dining tent. Owner Debbie Pacileo said Tuesday she’s working on getting another tent, this one with sides to help mitigate the wind, and on a way to heat the tent.
Concerned about potential snow in November, she said she’s not sure how long she’ll keep her outdoor dining setup into the fall.
“I’m all for whatever we can do to keep people coming in because the outside seating has been a blessing for us,” Pacileo said.
In lower downtown, restaurants have limited sidewalk space and haven’t been allowed to set up overflow seating in the road, like the Simpson Court restaurants have uptown.
Knuckleheads owner Anthony Morgillo said Tuesday that once the cold weather arrives, he plans to end outdoor dining at his restaurant at 80 Center St.
“With our setup, the amount of money we’d have to spend to heat the outdoor dining would not be worth the squeeze,” Morgillo said. “If you put heaters under a closed tent, there’s a very good chance of a fire… Ultimately, if you’re going to enclose an outdoor space and heat it, what difference is that than indoor dining?”
Center Street Luncheonette owner Amy Fortin said Tuesday she’s not in a financial position to buy heaters and tents to set up outside the restaurant at 18 Center St.
“We are praying for warm weekends and that the weather stays nice,” she said. “We want our customers to be comfortable, and in order for that to happen, it’s got to be warm … When people come into our place, we always say, sit wherever you’re comfortable, whether that’s inside or outside.”
She added that she sees other downtown restaurants struggling with outdoor dining.
“It would be nice if the town could do something for us, like they do uptown,” she said. “Maybe on the green by the gazebo and put up some tents for us. I think that would attract a lot more people.”Outdoor entertainment
On May 20, the state initiated Phase I of the business reopening plan, allowing restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining only and within safety guidelines. On June 17, the state initiated Phase II, which allowed the reopening of indoor dining.
Besides strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols and the use of face masks for employees, the state also required restaurants to limit capacity to 50 percent of their regular indoor seating capacity.
Outdoor dining is allowed as long as the restaurant does not exceed its regular operating capacity and physical distancing can be maintained. If a business established extra outdoor dining capacity in Phase I, that additional outdoor capacity may remain in Phase II.
Indoor and outdoor spaces need to be arranged to maintain at least 6 feet of empty space between tables. Patrons could sit less than 6 feet apart if barriers, compliant with fire safety codes, are installed between tables or booths.
Some businesses branched out into outdoor entertainment this summer.
According to state reopening guidelines, outdoor performers can take off their mask when they are onstage and are at least 12 feet away from the audience. Microphones and other shared items are to be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
Indoors, performers must wear a mask even when they are performing and musical vocalists are not allowed to perform.
Crystal Bees in Southington added outdoor concerts on an expanded patio after the town granted a variance for a temporary permit, allowing the patio to extend into the parking lot.
“We’ve had quite a bit of interest,” owner Cathy Harrell said Tuesday. “We reserve tables and we’ve had really good turnout for that. Last Saturday, we had a sellout with our tables.”
More shows are scheduled for this weekend and ticket sales are strong.
“The problem is that it’s getting colder,” Harrell said. “We don’t have a tent. We have too large of an area for that, and there’s no way we have of heating the outdoors.”
The forecast for this weekend is pleasant, seasonal weather but rain would cancel any concerts, as indoor live singing is not allowed.
“We really rely on that for the weekends to help us offset some of the lost revenue from private events and parties, and the general public coming in,” she said. “We’re trying to do everything we can within the constraints of the state.”