It’s no secret that the service industry, which includes restaurants and bars, has come to an almost complete standstill as the world adjusts to life during the COVID-19 crisis.
Many local restaurants have shut down business entirely, while others have been struggling to adapt to a new, contactless way of serving the public that includes curbside and delivery options.
Cheshire’s local restaurants are no different; all are dealing with the reality that is COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But many are also optimistic that Governor Ned Lamont’s restrictions on the Connecticut service industry will begin to lift on May 20, potentially jumpstarting the local economy.
“We are eager and excited to open up again for a soft opening on the 20th,” said Viron Rondos, owner of Viron Rondo Osteria on Highland Ave. “We have been working closely with Chesprocott and the Connecticut state officials in order to ensure our customers and staff are as safe as possible when we return.”
Restaurants were allowed to reopen for dine-in service starting on May 20, with severe restrictions on where customers can sit, how they pay, and their overall dining experience. Restaurants are only allowed to serve customers in their outdoor dining areas in order to keep patrons separated from each other.
“We are lucky enough to have an incredible outdoor area that we can utilize for our dining service,” Rondo explained. “We are not going to be using any menus. It will all be digital, and the tables have been spaced 7 feet apart.”
While the restrictions don’t explicitly say that restaurants without an outdoor dining area can’t reopen, establishments such as Cheshire Pizza & Ale, that do not currently offer outside seating, are finding themselves in a tough position.
“We are going to remain as take-out,” explained owner Dimitri Magriplis. “I just don’t believe it will be worth the headache. It's much easier for places that already have an existing outdoor seating area, but I don’t want to just throw chairs outside without doing it right.”
Magriplis also believes that some customers may not feel comfortable with the new arrangements.
“Dining with us is a social experience, (so) how comfortable are people really going to be eating outside? I am not sure at this time people really want to do that given the circumstances,” he added.
Fortunately for Magriplis’s business, take-out service has exceeded his expectations.
“We were really lucky that we had implemented our delivery services in October, right before the virus hit, which has been doing really well,” he said.
According to Margriplis, his online sales are about 75 percent of his business, which he credits to the current situation.
Some businesses who feel like they can reopen, such as C.J. Sparrow, despite a small or nonexistent outdoor dining area, are planning on getting creative.
“We do have a small outdoor patio that we are going to use, but I did get permission from the landlords to use the small grassy area and set up a few things on that as well,” said John Miller, the owner. “But we are waiting on the Town’s approval, which we assume we will get.”
For Miller and the other restaurant owners, this period of time is unlike anything they have ever experienced, but what they cherish the most is the outpouring of support from the community.
“We almost can’t keep up with the take-out orders,” mentioned Miller.” “Everyone has been so amazing and really trying to support us, (for) which we cannot thank them enough.”
Miller said he has almost been able to rehire his entire staff, thanks to Cheshire’s generosity.
“We are taking things one day at a time. At the end of the day, the safety of our staff and customers is the most important,” he said.