SALEM, N.H. — Restaurants were able to reopen Monday in New Hampshire – for outdoor dining only.
“I liken it to building an airplane while you’re flying it, you know, because we haven’t done this before,” said Tom Boucher, CEO of Great NH Restaurants, Inc.
Boucher was one of many restaurant owners who opened up outdoor dining space at all nine of his locations, including T-Bones, CJ’s, Cactus Jack’s and the Copper Door, located in Manchester, Bedford, Derry, Nashua and Salem.
Some of his restaurants already had outdoor seating areas, but for those that didn’t, like T-Bones in Salem, they put up a tent and tables outside, taking over a portion of the parking lot.
Joe Faro, CEO of Tuscan Brands, also had a large tent put up outside his Tuscan Kitchen restaurant in Salem.
“We put together the bar and the pizza oven and all the lighting and the tent and the tables and chairs,” said Faro. “You know we honestly put this together in like 48 hours – so it was a grind, but to see guests here, it’s worth every minute.”
Under the New Hampshire guidelines for Phase One of reopening the economy after the coronavirus outbreak, all restaurant employees still need to wear face coverings while serving customers. Plus, along with being outdoors, all dining tables need to be at least six feet apart with no more than six people per table.
“We’re also doing disposable menus, one-time use,” said Boucher. “We’re also doing disposable salt and pepper packets, which feels really weird, but you know we’re doing the things we can do to make customers feel safe.”
Boucher says his restaurants will also have time limits, allowing customers to sit and eat for just one hour and fifteen minutes.
“We think that that’s fair for the other guests that want to come in because some people like to hang out with your friends for a few hours and we just thought that wouldn’t be appropriate at this point in time,” said Boucher.
With outdoor dining, restaurants are still only serving 25 to 50% of their normal customers, so most aren’t even making profits yet, but owners say reconnecting with their employees and customers was a huge step forward.
“Rather than dwell on the negative I’d rather look at the positive,” said Faro. “The positive is that guests are back on the property and they’re enjoying the food and the service and the wine, you know what, we’ll build ourselves back up to full capacity as quickly as we can and as safely as we can.”
Restaurants in New Hampshire may be able to open indoor dining at a limited capacity in Phase Two of reopening, which could still be a few weeks away.
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