SALEM, N.H. — Restaurateurs across southern New Hampshire are getting creative as they prepare to open for outdoor dining Monday.
At Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, a large white tent has been installed by the patio to accommodate diners.
Others, like East Derry Tavern, can’t afford such measures, as owners limp along after being closed during the pandemic.
Sam Patel said he and his wife, Lina, who own the restaurant, need customers to come flocking back to fill their 21 outdoor tables — nearly 70 seats — to give the business a much-needed jump start.
The past two months have been a whirlwind of change for the dining industry. Some moved to takeout, while others closed altogether.
Now, owners have to re-imagine what dining out looks like in order to comply with state and federal regulations.
Restaurants can only open outdoor seating, but they can expand their patios into parking lots. There must be six feet of space between groups dining and those groups can only include up to six people, according to state guidelines.
Customers are being asked to wear masks while they are not seated at all New Hampshire restaurants. They also must wear masks while going inside to use the bathrooms, according to state guidelines.
Most restaurants are taking reservations by phone or online to be sure they don’t become overcrowded, as recommended by the state. Customers are expected to wait in their cars to be seated, so as not to not overcrowd the host stand, either.
Patel said that while his business has continued to do takeout, that didn’t bring in nearly as much money as seating a full restaurant.
“I hope once we are back up and running that will gain our business back,” he said.
General Manager Tony Santos said they have made reservations for Monday, a hopeful sign. They are taken over the phone only, to make sure the venue doesn’t become overcrowded.
“People are really responsive,” Santos said. “Everyone wants to help local, so we had our regulars coming in (for takeout) faithfully.”
He’s excited to see those regulars again and knows others are excited too.
“This is new for everyone in the business, so please be patient,” Santos said. “We are figuring it out as much as you are.”
Tuscan Kitchen is also taking it slowly, spokesman Edwin Santana said. This coming week they will be open for dinner only.
“We want to make this safe and help people feel normal again,” Santana said.
Tuscan’s large outdoor patios will accommodate about 200 people with even more distance between tables than regulated, he said.
Old School Bar and Grill in Windham is starting small, serving only on the regular patio which can accommodate 20 tables, and offering takeout starting Monday, owner Lauren Pappas said.
“It’s a lot. It’s like opening from the start,” Pappas said.
Old School Bar and Grill did takeout for the first two weeks of the governor’s stay-at-home advisory, but stopped because business was spotty, Pappas said. Since then, they have cleaned every inch of the place.
They also are installing the required hand-sanitizing stations and figuring out the new layout, she said. She’s booking musical guests to play outdoors.
Pappas is also doing her best to help assure her employees that every precaution is being taken as they come back to work.
“A lot of the staff is very scared to come back,” she said.
Many of her employees are in their 30s with children.
Her hope for Monday is that everyone is patient because there’s going to be a learning curve.
However scary it might be, Pappas said she is excited for what’s to come.
“The comeback is always stronger than the setback,” she said. “That’s our mindset.”