Outdoor seating at restaurants to be allowed later in Phase 1 of re-opening economy

Restaurants in Rhode Island were given a glimmer of hope in the state's re-opening plan, as Phase 1 will allow for outdoor seating down the line.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – As Rhode Island prepares to enter Phase 1 of re-opening the state’s economy, restaurants were given a glimmer of hope as Governor Gina Raimondo said later in the first phase, restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor seating.

Take-out and delivery will still be the temporary normal for restaurants, as dine-in service will not be allowed under Phase 1. But with strict regulations, the governor said, outdoor seating is possible.

Restrictions include tables being spaced at least six feet apart, and frequently touched items like menus, condiments, or silverware banned from use.

All outdoor seating must be by reservation only, the governor said, adding that restaurants that don’t have outdoor seating should start getting ‘creative.’

“I have five outdoor tables here, so that’s not amazing,” said Ben Lloyd, the owner of The Salted Slate in Wayland Square.

Lloyd said his restaurant can only accommodate ten people outside, and it may cost him more to bring in staff to wait on those tables rather than sticking strictly to take-out orders.

“I’m using about 200 square feet of a 2,200 square foot space, and I’m expected to pay full rent,” said Lloyd, who also owns the Providence Wine Bar on Angell Street. His rent for both spots combined is around $10,000 a month. “I can see making it work for a couple of weeks, couple of months, get through summer, but I don’t necessarily see the long term plan.”

Across town at Nico Bella’s Family Restaurant on Dorrance Street, owner Daniel Crenca doesn’t have the luxury of outdoor dining.

“We have no outdoor seating. We operate in a very downtown center kind of place. We don’t have a parking lot.”

Crenca said the downtown area has had no activity, which has been detrimental to the restaurant.

Their business relies on downtown events, that have been cancelled, and employees in the area who stop by on their lunch breaks, who are now working from home.

“We were getting ready for PVD Fest, gay pride, conventions, and PPAC. Our building, that averages about 450 people a day coming in and out of our building, has averaged about 10 people a day.”

Nico Bella’s, along with many restaurants downtown, decided to just close up and not offer take-out or delivery, and the hopefulness of outdoor seating doesn’t make a difference.

“That solution does not serve us at all. To have an expectation for outdoor seating to do much for restaurants as a whole is a little stretching it. It’s very reliant on weather. (Rhode Island) is not the best environment for eating outside. We have a very short season,” said Crenca.

Starting next week, Crenca said, Nico Bella’s will start offering take-out and window service at their Westminster Street entrance, hoping to make some revenue to pay the bills.

“We rely on social closeness, not social distancing, and without that kind of fellowship and people coming together, really the restaurant business kind of falls by the wayside. How are we going to survive this is the real question.”

In Phase 2 of re-opening the economy, more dining options are expected. An exact timeline on when restaurants can start offering outdoor seating has not yet been announced.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, News