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Governor Announces Phase 3 Reopening, Boosting Indoor Capacity at Restaurants, Banquet Halls

LaSalle Road outdoor dining corrals. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Center restaurants have been busy during the nice weather due to expanded outdoor seating, and owners are hopeful that the move to Phase 3 will coinciding with colder weather will boost confidence for indoor dining.

Dining corral and patio seating outside Zohara on Farmington Avenue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

By Hugh McQuaid, CTNewsJunkie.com 

Ronni Newton, We-Ha.com, contributed to this story

Connecticut will move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Oct. 8, permitting businesses like restaurants to increase the capacity of customers allowed indoors to 75 percent capacity but leaving bars closed, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

The change represents the third step in lifting restrictions imposed by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19. Lamont had previously scheduled the move to Phase 3 in July, but decided to postpone it. Now that schools and colleges have been in operation for  roughly three weeks and the state’s rate of new infection has held near 1 percent, Lamont said it was time.

“Connecticut has earned it in terms of being able to maintain our low infection rates,” he said in a press briefing Thursday afternoon. “I wanted to see what the impact of schools and in particular colleges might be. Now it’s almost a month later. I think we have a pretty good sense of where we’re headed and I thought that’s why now.”

Colder weather has also forced the state to reevaluate earlier efforts to encourage outdoor consumer activity, he said.

The new rules will ease gathering limitations from 50% capacity to 75% for many businesses including restaurants, hair salons, barbershops, and libraries. Lamont left intact safety requirements like wearing masks and distancing in public.

Restaurants must still have 6 feet of separation between tables, but as an alternative can install plexiglass partitions to help reduce spread of the virus.

Restaurateur Billy Grant, who owns Restaurant Bricco in West Hartford Center as well as Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury, said he thinks the governor’s announcement will help the industry in two ways – allowing more seating and creating more confidence in the protocols that restaurants have been following.

“The governor moving to Phase 3 will give the public confidence,” Grant said Thursday. “We think we’ve been doing things right but the concern is the demand from the public.”

Scott Miller, COO of DORO Restaurant Group, which operates Zohara, Treva, Àvert, and DORO Marketplace in West Hartford as well as Artisanal Burger Company in Manchester, agrees.

“Today’s news is a great step,” Miller said. “This shows that our state’s leaders believe and care about our restaurant industry while keeping in mind the safety of our guests. We can all use everyone’s support in the coming months and we are happy with the decisions made today by the governor and his administration.”

Phase 3 will also allow outdoor event venues like race tracks and sporting venues to increase their capacity from 25% to 50%. Indoor performing art venues will also be permitted to open at 50% capacity.

Meanwhile, the cap on indoor social gatherings at commercial establishments will increase from 25 to 100 people. The cap for outdoor events will move from 100 to 150 people.

That means that banquet facilities can start booking events again like weddings.

Religious services will also be permitted to expand indoor and outdoor capacity.

Lamont said bars and nightclubs would remain closed “for reasons I think most people understand.”

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, called the new restrictions “another important step” in the state’s response to the virus.

“Like the rest of the country, Connecticut is not out of the woods of this pandemic by any stretch, but we’ve proven that it’s possible to be mindful of our local economy at the same time we keep our residents as safe as possible,” Dolch said.

Dolch and restaurant owners in Connecticut have said their bigger fear is not being able to fill the seats inside the restaurants because customers lack confidence to dine inside.

“Making the public feel comfortable that’s the big thing, because you know you take West Hartford for example they have the streets blocked off but once the cold weather sets in or if there is a rain day certainly it wouldn’t help anybody if people don’t want to come indoors,” Helmar Wolf, owner of Mill Restaurant Group, said Wednesday.

Scott Smith, vice president of Max Restaurant Group, said at the moment while the weather is nice customers are choosing to sit outside.

Max Restaurant Group operates three restaurants in West Hartford – Max’s Oyster Bar, Savoy, and Max Burger.

“Given a choice people would rather sit outside but if they want immediate seating most people will still choose inside,” Smith said.

At Bricco in West Hartford, however, Grant said that people will wait for an outdoor table.

“Tonight is full outside,” he said Thursday, and while there are inside tables open, there is a waiting list for outdoors.

The restaurants in West Hartford Center have been doing pretty well throughout the summer due to the town’s installation of outdoor dining corrals, Grant said.

“In West Hartford, I really can’t complain. We’ve been blessed with the street.” Glastonbury isn’t doing as well because there isn’t as much ability to benefit from outdoor seating.

“We’re all a little bit worried,” Grant said about what will happen when the weather cools down. He’s hoping that the expanded indoor dining, and take-out, will help.

“Come dine with us and support the industry of opportunity – restaurants,” Miller said.

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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