Restaurants Struggle to Stay Afloat, Worry What Cold Weather Season Will Bring

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In downtown Hartford, eating out looks a lot different than it did this time last year, mostly because it's outside.

"We almost have to reinvent what we do," Jerry Fornarelli, owner of Tavern, told NBC Connecticut.

With the business crowd slashed and some people remaining reticent about venturing out for a meal in a pandemic, restaurants are doing what they can to stay afloat.

"Creating meal kits for families, margarita kits for individuals....there are so many things that we’ve done that we would’ve never thought of doing," Ken McAvoy, who owns Agave Grill, said.

McAvoy said outdoor seating has become a lifeline to keep going, but there's wonder about what that will look like, especially once the weather begins to change.

"Honestly I think it' put all restaurants in a position that they’re gonna have to do more with less. We’re recreating how we do business," he said.

"The horizon right now, the future of our industry scares me. It's really where we are," Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said.

Dolch said at least 100 restaurants in the state have had to shut down since the pandemic hit, and with no sign that dining at full capacity will return anytime soon, restaurants will have to get creative to stick around.

"If you enclose a tent outside and you throw heat in it… not everyone will afford it, but if you did that or you put up an igloo crazy ideas, can that be counted as indoor dining?" Dolch said.

Dolch met with Gov. Ned Lamont and Sen. Richard Blumenthal this week to talk about the future of dining in Connecticut. He's hoping more federal dollars for restaurants will come, along with spacing requirements that focus less on capacity and more on business ability to safely distance customers.

River: A Waterfront Restaurant and Bar in Wethersfield is one restaurant doing some of that creative planning now.

"Down on the lower level we’ll be putting in fire pits and everything. Anything we can do to try and extend the use of the outdoor spaces because clearly that’s where everyone wants to be," owner Chris Henney said.

With most fo their business outside, they're actually expanding that, opening a new Mexican-themed outdoor restaurant that even has its kitchen outside, knowing winter is coming, and they want to survive it.

"If those social distancing requirements stay in place, which we assume they will until there’s a vaccine available, it' going to be tough. We just try and do the best we can."

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