By: Paul Feely, New Hampshire Union Leader
City officials are promoting a new campaign to support Manchester restaurants during the winter months.
Manchester Take-Out Tuesdays starts Dec. 1. Residents are urged to order takeout from their favorite Manchester food establishments every Tuesday as a way to support local businesses.
“As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase, we need to do everything we can to keep our community safe while also supporting our local restaurants,” said Mayor Joyce Craig in a statement. “We know that the winter months are going to be incredibly difficult for our local small businesses, so with Manchester Take-Out Tuesdays, our city can come together to safely support our restaurant community while also containing the spread of COVID-19.”
The Greater Manchester Chamber is also supporting the campaign.
“We continue to be impressed with how our Manchester area eateries have creatively and safely adapted and improvised fundamental aspects of their businesses these past few months, not always knowing what future months will hold,” said Michael Skelton, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement.
By: Amy Coveno, WMUR
MANCHESTER, N.H. — As officials try to contain the spread of the virus, New Hampshire is now one of 16 states receiving White House guidance to limit indoor dining, but that industry is pushing back.
The president and CEO of New Hampshire’s Lodging and Restaurant Association said he is frustrated and fed up by official guidance that targets restaurants without providing any proof that community transmission is happening in dining establishments.
“We decided to close in the hopes of opening in the Spring, but you never know,” Country Chef in Wilton owner Holly Cekata said. “Hopes are hopes.”
The Country Chef just opened its doors when the pandemic struck. Cekala just laid off seven employees and locked the doors on Wednesday.
The CEO of the New Hampshire Restaurant and Lodging Association Mike Somers estimates at least 200 restaurants statewide have closed and is frustrated by health officials' focus on dining establishments.
“The restaurant industry has just become an easy target and that is really quite unfortunate,” Somers said.
JACKSON -- Sandra and Gary Plourde have been awarded Innkeeper of the Year by the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. The award was presented at the annual NHLRA event at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord on Nov. 16.
The couple are the owners of two historic, landmark White Mountain lodging and hospitality properties in the White Mountains: The Christmas Farm Inn & Spa in Jackson; and Thayers Inn in Littleton.
The award is from industry peers recognizing the Plourdes for their professional service and welcoming hospitality. They were also recognized for their active involvement in the community, support of many charities and involvement in many professional organizations.
By: Siobhan Lopez, WMUR
Restrictions are now in place for travel from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, with some exceptions.
Beginning Saturday, anyone who isn’t exempt and travels from New Hampshire to Massachusetts must quarantine for 14 days or get a negative COVID-19 test within three days of arriving in the Bay State. That’s something that could pose a problem for businesses, including restaurants on the border.
“I think it really is going to make it a lot more challenging for Massachusetts’ regular customers to really be able to come across the border and enjoy a night out and then head home,” said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
The biggest impact could be on holiday retail.
“I think that a lot of our neighbors in Massachusetts love to come to New Hampshire. Maybe they stay over, maybe they visit a couple of restaurants,” Somers said.
By: Kimberly Houghton, Union Leader Correspondent
Leaders in the Granite State hospitality industry are stressing the need for another round of the Paycheck Protection Program to help them survive the winter months.
Even though the Duprey Service Company has built up equity, that won’t save it if business travel does not return to Nashua, Manchester and Concord, said Steve Duprey.
A report released Thursday shows that business travel is not expected to return to pre-COVID levels until late 2023, according to Duprey, who fears many hotels will not survive.
At the Grappone Conference Center in Concord, about 100 people were either furloughed or laid off because of the pandemic. Although Duprey tried to rehire as many as possible, there wasn’t enough business to bring everyone back.
The loss of business travelers is not only impacting the hotel industry, but restaurants and entertainment venues as well.
During a conference call with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Friday, restaurant owners in New Hampshire expressed the need for more flexibility to spend their PPP money on retroactive purchases related to COVID-19, such as tent rentals, outdoor table and chair rentals, indoor protective barriers and more.
Tom Boucher of Great New Hampshire Restaurants said his company will spend about $500,000 by the end of the year on COVID-related expenses, including $30,000 on air purifiers.
In addition, he said Great New Hampshire Restaurants is expected to see a combined $1 million drop in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 compared to a year ago.
“We are going to need help. There is just not a question in my mind,” he said of New Hampshire restaurants. In 2020, he paid out no bonuses or dividends to his employees, he said.
Shaheen said she has not yet heard from the Senate majority leader or the White House about getting another PPP package done before the projected administration transition, which makes her concerned for the state’s hotels and restaurants.
“I know this is a challenging time for everybody,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen has called for the passage of the HEROES Small Business Lifeline Act, legislation she introduced that would allow many businesses within the industry to access a second round of PPP loans. To date, more than $2.5 billion in assistance has been disbursed to more than 25,000 businesses across the state.
Without outdoor dining, most restaurants are lucky if they are breaking even right now, said Mike Somers, of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
“We are going to need this next round of relief,” he told Shaheen, adding that as COVID-19 cases rise, customers likely will have greater hesitation about dining out.
With COVID cases rising, Sununu, other New England governors hold off on tighter restrictions for now
By: Ethan DeWitt, Concord Monitor
As early November’s unusually warm weather gives way to colder temperatures, New Hampshire’s restaurants are bracing for a new crisis.
COVID-19 cases are rising in the state to higher levels than ever before, breaking the all-time record for the most in one day on Sunday.
Dire predictions from national and state leaders are suggesting the second wave of the deadly virus has arrived, and that the peak for this surge is at least several weeks off. Gov. Chris Sununu told WMUR Sunday that case rates could be as high as 500 to 1,000 a day by the end of November.
And while most restaurants have embraced indoor dining, the cold weather means that customers who want to take extra precautions and eat outside may soon be out of luck. The heat lamps that many restaurants have deployed to make outdoor dining bearable in the cold may be no match against snowy weather and frigid evenings.
“I think its a little bit of a mixed bag,” said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. “I think there are some businesses that are legitimately going to make a try for outdoor dining. But those of us who have lived in New Hampshire for a while will recognize when it’s 25 degrees or 20 degrees and the wind’s howling, not too many people are going to eat outside.
As for the rest of winter, Somers says the concerns from restaurants are existential. “Frankly we are extremely concerned that businesses will not survive,” he said.
For now, restaurants have a ray of hope: Despite skyrocketing cases, Gov. Chris Sununu has stressed the state has no plans to return to the lockdown restrictions imposed in March to curb the spread of cases.
“We are confident this can and will be managed,” the governor said in a press conference Thursday.
But that calculus could change, Sununu says. And even if it doesn’t, and restrictions remain relatively lax, a drop in customer demand could prove devastating this winter.
Somers says restaurants are now working to retrofit their indoors to meet state guidelines, which stipulate that nonporous, solid barrier are set up between tables if tables cannot be spaced adequately. Doing that could get capacity up to 70 to 80%, Somers said.
“I think everyone’s trying to shift to indoors as best they can, as safely as they can,” he said. “I think the real challenge is going to be to see how consumers feel about it.”
Should rising cases prompt the governor to impose tighter restrictions on reopening – or even shut down in-person dining entirely – it will be a familiar scenario for restaurants. In March, just ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, Sununu issued an order closing bars and restaurants to in-person service and allowing transition to takeout, arguing that the allure of the holiday could have led to outbreaks in bars otherwise. He later relaxed that several times over the summer after New Hampshire’s surge in cases began to taper off.
But as cases creep back up there are major differences that could make the experience worse this time around, Somers says.
By: Kimberly Houghton, Union Leader Correspondent
With temporary closures because of potential COVID-19 exposure becoming more frequent, restaurants are bracing for a disquieting winter.
Keith Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Taproom in Bedford and Murphy’s Diner in Manchester, said Friday he has serious concerns about the next few months.
“I am extremely worried. Outdoor dining at both my restaurants is what kept us going since April or May,” Murphy said. “Our outdoor tables are always in very high demand, and we were able to keep pace with traditional sales because of that.
“But now that we are moving inside, there is definitely a slump. We still get some business, but it is nowhere near where it is supposed to be or what it has been.”
“Our industry is just going to keep getting smacked if we keep getting called out in the media,” said Tom Boucher, CEO of Great New Hampshire Restaurants, which includes T-Bones, Cactus Jack’s and The Copper Door.
To satisfy state health officials and reassure diners, New Hampshire restaurants recently implemented a sign-in/dine-in policy that allows for easier contact-tracing if a restaurant customer or employee tests positive.
“To be critically honest with you, it has been relatively painless,” Boucher said. “It is working well. We have tablets and are taking a name and number from at least one person in every party.”
He likened the process, which enables the Department of Health and Human Services to contact that one individual if a problem arises, to making reservations, which people are comfortable with.
So far, Boucher said 99% of his diners have complied with the protocol. “Quite frankly, it is for their own safety,” he said.
The policy is preferable to the the alerts the state issues when a restaurant employee or patron tests positive for COVID-19, Boucher said. He called that practice “really unfair,” pointing out the same notifications were not made for cases or potential exposure at gyms, hair salons or grocery stores.
“It really hurts the industry,” Boucher said. “Restaurants are suddenly the bad guys.”