“Having 88 seats compared to 300, it’s really tough,” said Teddy Ignatiadis, the owner of Main Street Grille in Niantic.
Because Connecticut is only allowing indoor dining at half capacity, restaurants have relied heavily on their decks, patios and even parking lots to keep them afloat this summer.
With cooler weather around the corner, owners are trying to hold onto what little business they have left.
“At the beginning, no one really wanted to come inside,” recalled Anthony Sullo, co-owner of Joey Garlic’s in Newington.
Sullo said he’s already looking for ways to keep customers coming once cooler weather returns.
“We’ll add some heaters underneath the tent, propane heaters, try to extend it into the fall as much as we can,” he explained.
The seasonal seafood spots that dot the shoreline are used to having a tight timeline to make their money, but even they are trying to extend their season.
“We opened the end of May we normally open in April,” said Dad’s Restaurant Manager, Jordan Kovacs.
Labor Day is usually the last day of the season for Dad’s Restaurant in Niantic. But this year, Kovacs said because it opened a month late, Dad’s won’t close until Sept. 20.
“It’s been really busy. I think people are just looking for like a way to get out to do something,” she said.
Down the street, a restaurant normally open year-round, Main Street Grille, is getting set to close for the season in a month.
“I’ve been in the business for over 20 years and it’s really tough,” said Ignatiadis.
With the exception of a couple of rainy days, Ignatiadis said he’s kept his large dining room closed, instead of relying on two outdoor seating areas overlooking the water.
“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable at all sitting inside due to the amount of seats that we have,’’ he explained. “If it was a smaller restaurant I feel maybe it would be different but our main room fits 120 guests and they don’t feel safe being in there.”
Because customers aren’t clamoring to eat inside, Ignatiadis has decided not to stay open over the winter. He plans to reopen Mother’s Day weekend.
“We would definitely lose money, probably at least 60% of our business,” he said of continuing to stay open during the pandemic.
Ignatiadis said the state’s capacity regulations helped force his decision.
“It had a huge impact,” he said. “It really killed our bar business, to be honest with you.”
However, he said his decision goes beyond his business’s bottom line.
“It’s all about safety I feel for customers and employees,” said Ignatiadis who added that he doesn’t believe the state should expand indoor capacity at this time.
While restaurant owners are understandably worried about outdoor business floundering during foul weather, customers we spoke to said they feel fine dining inside.
“As long as the same rules are applied and they have the spacing like they do inside here,” said Ed Shaughnessy of Winchester as he ate under a tent set up in the parking lot of TJ’s on Cedar in Newington.
Jennifer McGill, of Colchester, hasn’t sat inside to eat at a restaurant since the pandemic began.
“In the summertime, I’d prefer to be outside anyway,” she said. “I really wouldn’t hesitate to eat inside once the weather gets colder. I think it should be kept at 50%, you until we get vaccines and stuff and figure this mess out.”
Sullo added that Joey Garlic’s has reached indoor capacity for the last several weeks.
“Most people prefer to sit outside but there are a lot of people who feel more comfortable coming inside as well,” he said.