Ready To Eat Out? It’s A Question That Divides Restaurant Owners –

Restaurant News

Outside the Tuscan Kitchen restaurant in Salem, New Hampshire, a tent covers a newly created outdoor dining room. New Hampshire allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining only beginning Monday and although evening temperatures were expected to dip well below anyone’s definition of balmy, restaurants are, by now, accustomed to managing adversity.

It’s been more than two months since their dining rooms were shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Now, the restaurant industry’s adapting to a future in which customers eat outdoors at tables spaced six feet apart, served by wait staff wearing masks and gloves. Menus may become virtual as well.

“We have systems in place so that you can actually order online, we text you when your table is ready, you can actually pre-order your food on your phone,” said Joe Farro, who owns four Tuscan Kitchen restaurants in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

On the same day New Hampshire restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining, Governor Charlie Baker announced plans to reopen the Massachusetts economy. Restaurants are among the businesses that will have to wait at least three weeks for the so-called second phase. It’s a decision that makes sense to some restaurant owners who fear customers aren’t ready to come back. But others, including Farro, call it a disappointment.

“Ultimately, everybody’s going to have to push forward,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Farro said his staff numbered 775 people, now it’s down to 175. He launched takeout service that yields about 10 percent of the normal business and he anticipates outdoor dining will bring in about half the usual revenues in New Hampshire. The only way he can bring back all his staff he said is to fully reopen his restaurants. And he said if they stayed closed much longer, many restaurants may never reopen.

“The restaurant industry, the domino effect is going to be catastrophic,” said Farro, “you’re going to see a lot of small restaurants fail and that’s awful.”

Farro is one of about a hundred restaurant owners who last week sent a letter to Governor Baker urging him to include restaurants in the first phase of the reopening on May 18.

“We really have a small amount of restauranteurs that have banded together, it’s getting larger, that really feel like — ‘Hey, we have the capability and we have the technology and the teams to do this in a way that’s responsible.'”

At her South End bistro, Frenchie, Sandrine Rossi is also implementing new safety protocols. She installed an air purifier, her staff wear masks and gloves. But take-out only service isn’t enough to keep all her staff employed and she worries about the future of Frenchie and a second restaurant she owns in Cambridge called Collette.

“It’s very scary,” she said.

Yet she’s in no hurry to fully reopen.

“I don’t think people would come, quite frankly,” she said. “People are still scared and once we are on the other side of this pandemic, and the number of cases is significantly lower, maybe people will be more confident, but right now, I don’t see that happening.”

The state has developed a new restaurant, accommodations, and tourism work group to determine protocols for reopening. It’s information Rossi would like soon.

“They could give us an idea of adaptations we need to make, so we can start looking for equipment, start looking at our business plan, how many people we need,” she said.

On that point, Tuscan Kitchen owner Joe Farro agrees. Setting up what he calls the equivalent of a pop up restaurant under a tent in New Hampshire took time and planning.

“You can’t do this overnight,” he said.

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