By: Kevin Landrigan, New Hampshire Union Leader
CONCORD -- Restaurant and small bistro owners say they will be unable to break even if their eateries continue to be restricted to half-capacity because of COVID-19.
The complaints to the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force Thursday came only three days after restaurants were allowed to open for indoor service.
Jay Bolduc, operating manager of T-Bones Restaurant in Laconia, said establishments can’t expect their customers to come at staggered times to limit crowds.
“We can’t tell our guests to get hungry at 10 p.m.,” said Bolduc, who chairs the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association’s board of directors.
Michael Buckley, with the Michael Timothy’s Dining Group of restaurants, said increasing seating capacity isn’t the only answer.
“When we go to make the decision to go up to 100%, we must address the table spreading as well,” Buckley said, referring to the requirement that tables be at least six feet apart.
Gov. Chris Sununu on June 5 announced restaurants could open for indoor service on June 15.
The restaurant business was the first sector Sununu chose to reopen in different stages, depending on location.
The governor allowed restaurants to operate at 100% capacity in the six counties with the fewest COVID-19 cases — Coos, Cheshire, Grafton, Belknap, Carroll and Sullivan.
Restaurants in Hillsborough, Rockingham, Strafford and Merrimack counties were limited to 50% capacity. Those four counties have combined to account for almost 90% of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
Restaurants in the six counties that are allowed to serve 100% of regular customers must do so through a combination of both indoor and outdoor seating. Indoor seating is still limited to 50%.
Leaders in the lodging and banquet room businesses also argued against their 50% limits.
“It is not at all practical from an operational or an economic point of view,” said Joel Bourassa, director of regional resorts for Vacation Resort International, which operates two resorts in Lincoln.
“This hurts the economy by limiting up to 50% of the reservations that we have to reset later on. This really has to change and soon,” he said.
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