Westport restaurants prepare for phase 3 in CT

Pearl at Longshore restaurant.

Pearl at Longshore restaurant.

Westport News / Jarret Liotta

WESTPORT — One day prior to the state’s closure of businesses to stop the spread of COVID-19, Pearl at Longshore preemptively closed its doors to protect its customers.

Since then, the restaurant has reopened and is serving customers at limited capacity and through a revamped takeout menu. But while phase 3 of the state’s reopening on Oct. 8 will allow for up to 75 percent capacity of indoor dining, the restaurant and others are hesitant to take advantage of this.

“Even though we technically could probably get a few more seats in we are actually not planning on expanding our seating capacity at this time,” David Donnelly, director of operations at Pearl, said. “We want to make sure our guests when they come in still feel they have enough space around them, they still feel safe, and they still have their own privacy.”

Donnelly said two of the restaurant’s porches are closeable and can be heated, which is typically done during the winter months anyways. He said safety measures on top of this led to the decision to not try to increase capacity.

“As a restaurant it’s more important for us that people feel safe and they feel like we have their best interest,” Donnelly said.

As opposed to doing 200 dinners at 7 p.m. the restaurant now sees their customers spread throughout the day, he said.

“Even though we have less seat we’re doing more seatings,” Donnelly said.

But the balance of maintaining safe spacing inside while reaching the 75 percent capacity could be challenging for smaller restaurants, according to Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce and member of the town’s reopening advisory team.

“I believe the larger restaurants will be able to take advantage of it,” he said. “The smaller restaurants I believe will still need to use outdoor dining to augment their ability to make money.”

On Thursday, Mandell held a Zoom meeting with restaurant owners throughout town and local officials to discuss entering phase 3.

Bill Rizzuto, owner of Rizzuto’s, shared concerns of restaurants trying to reach 75 percent capacity under safe guidelines. He said his restaurant had not reopen indoors yet, but looked to do it in the coming weeks.

“Even though we have a lot of square footage I don’t think that it’s going to be feasible to hit 75 percent occupancy and keep your distancing,” Rizzuto said.

But Mandell said a combination of outdoor dining and indoor dining could help restaurants. He said a restaurant could potentially reach 125 percent capacity if they can safely manage 75 percent capacity indoors, and 50 percent capacity outdoors.

“There’s a possibility here for augmenting what you doing,” he said, adding takeout services would continue to be important.

Mandell said he also looks to start an initiative promoting the idea of people bringing their own blankets to restaurants, a common practice in European countries during colder months.

“The goal is to have people to continue to come out and to continue utilizing your facilities,” he said.