NEW LONDON — On May 20, for the first time in more than two months, restaurants in Connecticut will – most likely – be allowed to begin extend service to customers beyond takeout and delivery
According to Governor Ned Lamont, the first phase of the reopening efforts will allow restaurants to serve patrons in outdoor, socially-distanced seating.
How many restaurants have the space — or be able to turn a profit — has yet to be seen.
“We want to work with the individual restaurants depending on your needs. Some of you already have areas for outdoor dining, but if you don’t have places to expand, the city is willing to explore creative ideas to make room for you,” said Mayor Mike Passero at a Monday morning zoom meeting with more than 50 New London restaurant owners. “If we can accommodate a restaurant spreading onto the sidewalk or public area we are standing by you to accommodate that.”
For restaurants able to partially reopen, there will be no additional fees for outdoor food service and for restaurants with less than 50 employees, the state will provide free personal protective equipment delivered each week by local fire departments.
The first phase of reopening will retain social distancing requirements, mandating that patrons from separate households remain six feet apart and, when possible, wear masks. Some restaurant owners fear, however, that eating out with those restrictions still in place may not be possible.
“Are four people from an office allowed to sit at a table for four? They will be eating lunch so the masks are kind of moot,” Barry Neistat of Muddy Waters Café asked.
The answer is, probably not.
“In that situation if four unrelated people are closer than six feet then they have to wear masks, if that will be lifted for restaurants I don’t know” said Stephen Mansfield, director of Ledge Light Health District. “I think there are a lot of gray areas for sure and a lot of questions. Hopefully we will get answers long before the 20th.”
Mansfield stressed that Ledge Light Health District is not the authority on this rollback, and would pass along questions from its ten member-towns to the Governor’s Office and the Connecticut Department of Health for clarification.
Some restaurants, like Berry’s Ice Cream and Candy Bar, have been relatively successful with curbside service and will likely continue ‘as is’ through the first phase of the reopening.
“It’s great that some of the businesses have been doing a great job of takeout,” Passero said. “We are going to make sure we continue to support that.”
Driving and parking directly in front of businesses like Berry’s will still be possible even if outdoor seating at nearby restaurants is implemented.
Other restaurants — especially those that have not begun takeout service yet — may choose not to open for fear of exposing themselves to liability.
“What if we follow all the procedures and somebody gets sick and they can trace it back to our establishment. Are we walking into a massive liability concern? How can we navigate that and protect not just the public, but ourselves?” asked Hannah Gant on the Monday morning call.
Mansfield assured Grant and others that tracing exactly where someone contracted COVID-19 is nearly impossible, but could not promise there could never be any legal repercussions.
“We have some time until we can start the process of reopening, and the City wants to be sure that we are using the time wisely to hear from all our restaurants and ensure that we are thinking through every step,” assured Passero. “We need to reopen, but we need to do so with the public health in mind. That means getting a plan in place to ensure we are reopening responsibly and safely.”