connecticut restaurants

Return To Work Delays Impacting Downtown Businesses

NBC Universal, Inc.

Hartford restaurants are rethinking ways to attract customers after many businesses in downtown remain in a hybrid work model.

Carbone's is one of the oldest restaurants in Hartford and its doors remain shut at their Hartford location. It's the latest example of restaurants having to close or switch up their business model because there's not enough foot traffic during the week to open at this time.

"Unfortunately for these times, we have to make decisions with our brains and not with our hearts," said Vinnie Carbone, the owner of Carbone's. "We're hoping to get back up and running at the right place and at the right time."

Tough businesses decisions are a sign of the times for the food service industry, which often relies on downtown workers looking to fill their stomachs during the mid-day lunch hours.

This month, The Hartford announced a delay in employees coming back in. The company released this statement to NBC Connecticut:

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are delaying the return of senior leaders to the office as scientists and medical experts work to understand the new virus variant, Omicron, and its implications for transmissibility and vaccine effectiveness. We had planned for senior leaders to return on Dec. 6 and will determine a new date in the weeks ahead. We are moving forward with Jan. 18 as our planned date for employees to return to the office. As we have said all along, we will continue to make decisions and take action based on guidance from public health experts.”

It's one of the harsh realities for restaurants in the Capital city that count on foot traffic from employees who work nearby to their business.

"City place on a pre-covid average day was about 3,000 employees, right now, the average is 300-400 employees," said Steven Abrams, one of the co-owners of Max Downtown. "When you talk to the people that are in, they're in for a day or so and then they tell us I'm here today but I'm not here tomorrow and we get it."

The hybrid model and delay in returning to the workplace is a decision many large companies are choosing to take out of an abundance of caution.

"My worry about the restaurants in Hartford, Stamford, Bridgeport and New Haven is that all of these cities rely on businesses and their employees," said Scott Dolch, the president and CEO of the CT Restaurant Association. "Some of the best restaurants are making some difficult decisions and that's my fear over the next three to four months."

Thanks to federal funding, the city is preparing for the moment companies allow their workers to return. The initiative is called the Hart-Lift, targeting new and upcoming business owners.

With some major Connecticut companies keeping employees working from home, restaurants that rely on that lunchtime customer base are struggling.

"It's really an exciting opportunity for us to breathe some life back into the downtown restaurant scene which will hopefully help our bigger businesses to bring people back into their offices because there will be so many options for folks to go out to lunch," said David Griggs who is the president and CEO of the Metro-Hartford Alliance.

For more information about the Hart-Lift initiative, click here.

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