After a long wait that saw many establishments close for good, restaurants in New Hampshire were allowed to reopen Monday after the coronavirus shutdowns.
Some restaurants rode out the closures by offering takeout and delivery only, while others chose to close temporarily to wait for when they could welcome customers back in.
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About half of the state's restaurants are expected to offer outdoor dining. The rest don't have the space or resources to make it happen.
Jim Tanner and Steve Duprey were sitting outside The Works Café in Concord with their coffee by 6:02 a.m., two minutes after it opened.
For several years, they’ve been among a group of friends who meet at the café every weekday morning. Since the governor issued the stay-at-home order, Tanner and Duprey have altered the tradition — getting coffee to go and chatting outside for a few minutes, standing 10 feet apart.
“Today was nice because we saw the tables out and thought, `Hey, we can sit here and enjoy the nice weather,’” said Tanner, a retired IBM sales executive who has missed the morning gatherings.
“Folks kind of paraded in ... it was a very nice way for many of us to start our day and get a lot of social contact with all facets of society,” he said.
Restaurants, which previously had been restricted to take-out and delivery, can now serve diners outside, with tables six feet apart. Staff who work directly with customers must wear masks, and customers are asked to wear them as well as they enter and exit the property, and if they go inside to use restrooms.
"It's been extremely difficult," Tom Boucher, who runs a string of restaurants in New Hampshire, said of the shutdown. "It was heartbreaking for me the night of March 16 when I had to lay off 650 employees."
Boucher said Phase 1 is "a good first step," but the next phase allowing for dining in is where he thinks restaurants will make up a little ground.
At T-Bones in Salem, one of Boucher's restaurants, they've erected tents in the parking lot. Each can handle nearly 50 diners at once with proper social distancing.
Sean Brown, chief operating officer for the Common Man family of restaurants, said many customers arrived for lunch without masks Monday, but the restaurants provided them. Most locations were moderately busy despite less-than-ideal weather, he said.
“We certainly were not overwhelmed, but the guests that were dining with us were appreciative, they were happy to see us and we were happy to see them,” he said. “I’m confident that the outdoor dining business will continue to grow as guests become more comfortable.”
Brown said staff were happy to get back to work.
“Everyone had a smile on their face today,” he said. “I’ve been telling everyone, even if you have a mask on, our customers can still see a big smile.”
According to Gov. Chris Sununu's "Stay at Home 2.0" order, here's a quick rundown of how restaurant reopenings will work:
EMPLOYEE PROTECTION EFFORTS
• Provide ServSafe COVID-19 training as soon as possible for all employees.
• Build social distancing into food service operations to maintain a safe distance of at least six feet between employers and customers.
• Employees coming into direct contact with customers must wear cloth or mask face coverings over their nose and mouth.
• All employees must be trained on the importance of frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content.
CONSUMER PROTECTION EFFORTS
• Outdoor dining will be permitted, with restaurants allowed to expand outside wherever an outdoor area can be set up safely, such as parking spaces close to entrances, sidewalks, existing patios and lawn areas. Outdoor areas must be able to be cleaned and disinfected. The outdoor space must be clearly delineated and distanced from people walking by. If expansion in in a shared space, coordinate and seek approval from local authorities.
• Seated indoor dining isn't permitted in Phase 1.
• Tables must be limited to no more than six people per table.
• Table spacing should be maintained so people sitting at adjacent tables are at least six feet apart.
• Reservations or call-ahead seating are recommended to promote social distancing and prevent groups of guests waiting for tables. Establishments may use a text alert or intercom system to alert guests waiting in their vehicles of available seating, or one member of the party can wait in the waiting area for their table to be ready.
• Reservations should be staggered to prevent congregating in waiting areas. Waiting areas should build in social distancing so customers and employees are spaced at least six feet apart.
• Bar seating areas should remain closed.
• Signage must be prominently posted throughout the venue to ask customers if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
• Customers will be asked to bring and wear a cloth face covering when entering and exiting to protect other patrons and employees during the seating and exiting process, or when getting up to use the restroom.
• Alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be made readily available at the reception desk for both customers and employees.
BUSINESS PROCESS ADAPTATIONS
• Hand sanitizer stations must be placed in restaurant lobby reception areas and bathrooms, as well as at cashier stations. Restrooms should be monitored and routinely cleaned and soap dispensers regularly filled.
• All front-of-house surfaces, including door handles, screens, phones, pens, keyboards and other areas of hand contact must be disinfected every two hours at a minimum.
• To the extent possible, use disposable menus or sanitize them between each use.
• Use of "self-serve" utensils, plates or napkins is not allowed. Consider using rolled silverware and eliminating table presets.
• All tabletop items, including condiments, must be sanitized after each table turns.
• Chairs must be disinfected after each table use.
• No self-serve buffets or appetizers, shared condiments on a counter or beverage station re-use will be allowed.
• No catering or large group functions are allowed.
• Restroom occupancy should be limited for group restrooms to incorporate social distancing, and waiting lines outside of restrooms should be avoided.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.