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As Fall Looms, Restaurant Owners' Concerns Grow

Heat lamps are up at Milestone in Redding for outdoor dining this fall
Ali Warshavsky
Heat lamps are up at Milestone in Redding for outdoor dining this fall.

As the seasons begin to change and the weather gets colder, restaurant owners are urging Gov. Ned Lamont to expand indoor dining and provide broader guidelines for indoor events. Otherwise, some say they won’t survive.

Peter Fine acknowledged he is one of the lucky restaurant owners who were able to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions relatively well. The Milestone in Redding had a deck and patio it could use for outdoor dining once it was allowed to reopen.  

Peter Fine Opened Milestone Restaurant in 2018
Credit Ali Warshavsky / WNPR
Peter Fine opened Milestone in 2018.

“We are in a good position moving forward,” said Fine, who credits substantial support from the community with keeping him afloat. “I think all of us just look around the corner and think, what’s next? We don’t really know.”

Fine has been looking ahead since June when he ordered heat lamps for cooler nights. He’s installing a heating system for his deck, too, as state regulations limit indoor dining to 50% capacity.

“I’d like to fit as many tables as I can in here at least 6 feet apart,” said Fine. 

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, has been pressing Lamont to lift the indoor capacity restriction as long restaurants place all their tables 6 feet apart.

“Now’s the time we have to move forward,” said Dolch. “I am extremely concerned.”

Fine plans to heat the deck to allow for dining outside through the winter
Credit Ali Warshavsky / WNPR
Fine plans to heat the deck to allow for outside dining through the winter.

Dolch said he receives about one call a day from a restaurant that is closing for good due to the pandemic. He met with Lamont last week to discuss increasing indoor dining and other indoor events. Dolch said that’s just one step toward restaurants recovering.

“Even if we have a capacity increase, we have to build consumer confidence,” said Dolch. “We still have to work hard. I told the governor we still have to make sure people feel safe like they did with outdoor dining.”

When asked Thursday, Lamont said a decision on indoor dining and events would come in the next 10 days.

“I owe them a response, and I owe them a response soon,” said Lamont.

Dolch said Connecticut restaurants also desperately need more federal assistance to help them stay alive.

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