Lamont offers slight reprieve to Connecticut restaurant owners with later curfew

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Susan Dunne, Hartford Courant
·4 min read
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Connecticut restaurants that have seen their dining capacity and hours of operation slashed by precautionary restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic will get a reprieve, after Gov. Ned Lamont moved to relax the curfew Monday.

Lamont announced that the 10 p.m. curfew for customers to leave restaurants, in place since November, will be extended to 11 p.m. starting “in the next couple of days.” This also applies to bowling alleys.

“Restaurants in particular are really operating professionally” to keep customers safe, Lamont said.

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said “any roll forward is a good thing for us.

“Typically restaurants try to get three turns in the dinner service, at 5, 7 and 9. When it was ending at 10 it was very difficult to get that third turn,” Dolch said.

Viron Rondo, who owns Viron Rondo Osteria in Cheshire, said a later curfew would be “extremely helpful.

“Perhaps on weekends we will have another seating, especially on the special holidays,” Rondo said. “Valentine’s Day is coming up in two weeks.”

At the same time, Dolch added, he wonders why there must be a curfew at all. “Why extend it by just an hour? Why not lift it completely, like other states?” he said.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced on Friday that that state’s restaurants could resume their normal hours. In Massachusetts, the restaurant curfew expired on Jan. 25.

Marissa Bramato, who owns Esca in Middletown, also believes the curfew should be lifted entirely. But she said “every little bit helps,” adding that later diners have been upset by the 10 p.m. curfew.

“This past Saturday we had eight tables and we had to escort them out the door while they were still enjoying their evening. Some of them were getting dessert. We had to pack it up to go,” she said. “They look at us and say ‘Really?’ We say it’s not us, it’s state law and we have to follow it. They were just enjoying their evening and they’re being rushed out. It’s not a good feeling for them or for us.”

Matt Storch, of Match Restaurant in Norwalk and Match Burger Lobster in Westport, said the curfew shift is “fantastic.” He added, though, that restaurateurs should be trusted to do the right thing even without curfews or capacity limits, because to do otherwise would be bad for business.

“Our customers vote with their feet. If they see something they don’t like, they keep walking. At this point in time, cramming people into restaurants with no mask restrictions, no spacing would just be a bad idea,” he said. “We understand that keeping customer confidence high gets us to the finish line.”

In early November, a petition was started by Angelique Cannestro, a bartender from Norwalk, to lift the restaurant curfew. To date, the change.org petition has received more than 21,000 signatures.

Dolch said that he wished the state also would lift capacity restrictions on weddings, which are currently at 25 people for an indoor event.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that effective March 15, up to 150 people can attend an indoor reception, at venues where that number is 50 percent of capacity, and if all attendees take rapid virus tests.

“It’s not so much that we want that March date” like New York, Dolch said. “It’s the ability to have a date set, so you know when you can have 150 people inside. That would give people hope.”

Phil Barnett of Hartford Restaurant Group — which operates Wood N Tap, with nine locations statewide, and Que Whiskey Kitchen in Southington — agreed that setting a date for increased capacity at private events is a critical next step.

“It’s for guests who want to have their rehearsal dinner, or a small wedding. For them to plan right now is near impossible,” Barnett said. “If the state comes up with a date, it will allow customers to plan.”

About 600 Connecticut restaurants have closed as a result of the pandemic, and about 100 others have gone into “hibernation,” Dolch said, closing for winter until warmer weather will allow outdoor seating.

“This winter stretch has been the toughest. Realistically all there is is indoor dining and takeout. Some places have igloos and tents but the vast majority don’t,” he said. “We’re trying to get everybody to the spring and survive.”

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.