Southington Restaurant Owners Split on Whether Outside Dining Will Help Business

Connecticut restaurants will be among the first businesses in the state allowed to partially reopen this week. Owners say getting back into the black won’t be as easy as putting tables outside their front doors.

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Cheryl Moran owns two Southington restaurants.  She said her establishment in Plantsville, Tavern 42, will not open on Wednesday.

“It’s not worth it.  It’s not worth it for six tables,” she explained.

Monday inside her Center Street steakhouse, Anthony Jack’s, cleaning products were piled up, a screening station was set up for employees to check their temperatures, and masks and hand sanitizer were ready at the front door for customers who needed to come in to use the restrooms.

“We have to have someone on premises at all times who is their only job is to walk around with sanitizer and disinfectant, and keep everything clean,” she said of one of the many steps required of businesses to reopen.

The chairman of Southington’s reopening committee said there aren’t a lot of restaurant owners chomping at the bit to reopen under these restrictions.

“We put the word out to all restaurants in town and only a handful said that they wanted to do the outdoor dining,” said Michael DelSanto.

DelSanto said the town is bending over backwards to make the situation work, even offering to shut down streets to add more table capacity.  However, Moran pointed out that on a perfect night she could only serve a total of 48 customers outside.

“We served maybe 500 meals last night just in curbside and delivery,” she said. “It makes no sense for us to close down this street and take away our curbside 'cause that’s where our bread and butter is.”

While restaurants on upper Center Street, which only goes one-way, said closing down the road could eat into their curbside business, those on the lower end, which is open to two-way traffic, believed it would actually be a boost to their business.

“We just found out today that we will be having outdoor dining due to the street being closed down so it’s really going to allow us, give us more capacity of what we have inside as well as pull the tables out more so on the street now,” said Theresa Malloy, the owner of Paul Gregory’s Bistro.

One thing restaurant owners can’t prepare for is consumer confidence.

“I think they’re going to be reluctant at first.  I think everybody is,” said Ashley Malloy, the head chef at Paul Gregory’s.

In a recent Facebook survey conducted by NBC Connecticut, 73% of viewers who voted said they would not feel comfortable dining out when the state reopens.

Connecticut’s Economic Development Commissioner David Lehman said that matches their own surveys, while Gov. Ned Lamont said he expects customers to be cautious.

“My hunch is you’re going to have to earn the confidence of consumers over a period of time.  It will not happen overnight,” Lamont said Monday.

DelSanto said opening up outdoor dining may open businesses up to more risks than rewards.  He said many are holding out until they can start to welcome their customers back inside their dining rooms.

“Some of these restaurants are really struggling.  So, they need to get opened not necessarily full bore, but some of these restrictions need to be lifted so they can continue to get back to whatever normal once was,” said DelSanto.

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