PORTLAND, CT (WFSB) -- In one week, people in Connecticut will be able to dine at restaurants once again.

On May 20, the state will partially reopen, and part of the first phase of reopening includes allowing restaurants to serve patrons outside.

There are a number of requirements for health and safety, like masks for employees, and even for customers when they are walking around inside. Also, staff will have to make sure everything gets cleaned thoroughly.

However, some restaurants don’t have the option for outdoor dining.

Right now, some businesses are looking at ways to make that happen, but in other cases, local officials are trying to create some opportunities for outdoor patios.

Gov. Ned Lamont even issued an executive order allowing towns to relax zoning rules so more restaurants can have outdoor seating.

Portland Land Use officials are being proactive, sending forms to towns asking where they might add outdoor seating.

“Our role here in the town is just to make sure that the areas that the restaurants put outdoor dining tables is safe for the customers and safe for the business owners to come out and serve those customers,” said Mary Dickinson, economic development director and planner in Portland.

Hartford is creating an online process for restaurants to apply online. Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Sara Bronin says this allows the city to speed up some of its own plans.

“That had already been in the works, but this statewide order helps us expedite what we were already doing,” Bronin said.

She said Hartford can't close major streets like Main and Trumbull, but Pratt Street could be an option.

"It has the density of restaurants that would be required to support a street closure and it doesn't have the kind of traffic that a Main Street or a Trumbull Street would have," Bronin said.

Plans include relaxing limits on patio space, even letting restaurants partner with neighboring properties.

Regardless, many restaurant owners said outdoor dining will be a huge boost. Many of them have been able to offer takeout and delivery, but that isn’t always helpful. Other spots just never saw takeout as a major driver for business.

Having outdoor dining will help those places get back some of their regular customers, and local officials are ready to help them out.

“I think people like to socialize, so I think if people can come sit outside and eat their meal, it might help business better than just taking it out, taking it out,” said Kim Greenlaw, owner of Eggs Up Grill in Portland.

“We're all just trying to figure out, you know, once everything comes into play and we make sure everything is set, we have as many places for people to dine as possible,” said Brian Costa, managing partner of Max Fish in Glastonbury.

“It's beautiful weather, it's nice time to be able to go to your favorite restaurant, be able to eat outside and enjoy the delicious food their preparing,” said Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield.

Indoor dining won’t be allowed for a few more weeks. However, on Wednesday, a group of 130 business owners sent a letter to Gov. Lamont to allow that starting June 3.

In a letter, business owners said, “As malls, hair salons and others are allowed to gradually begin indoor service, as they should be, it makes sense restaurants would also be allowed some limited indoor service.”

They propose restrictions, including a limit of no more than 50 percent of normal capacity and a ban on standing room or bar seating. Restaurants would also discourage the elderly or anyone else facing higher risks of death from COVID-19 from sitting indoors.

During his daily briefing on Wednesday, Gov. Lamont said that could be part of 'phase 2.' Leaders say that phase would start no earlier than June 20.

Business owners are also discussing the challenge of reopening.

Owners say they have workers who, after getting a hefty stimulus and unemployment checks, may not come back at all.

They also have to worry about things like the availability of daycare and getting protective gear for their workers.

Two guests at Gov. Lamont’s daily briefing on Wednesday are state senators, who also happen to be business owners.

Senator Christine Cohen has a bagel shop, and it remains open. She says it’s been tough navigating the new normal, especially when it comes to getting the protective gear for her workers.

That has also been the challenge for the restaurants that plan to reopen on May 20, like Paul Formica’s Flanders Fish Market.

With a week before a potential reopening, these are just some of the obstacles businesses across the state are facing.

When asked how many businesses he thinks will actually reopen on May 20, Gov. Lamont said “Not all of them, I know a lot are little more cautious and a lot them want more time to get it right, a lot are waiting on customers to know what the demand is. A lot of them are talking to employees, making sure, they’re comfortable to get back, so May 20th is not going to be a light switch that turns on, I think it’ll phase in over a period of time.”

Copyright 2020 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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(1) comment

Bristol62

Wonder how folks are going to like sitting out in the summer heat to eat.

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