Outdoor dining in full swing this weekend

Outdoor dining in full swing this weekend

Owners Eric and Bethany Marsland, pictured with staff members in the background, stand in the Fazzini’s parking lot they plan to turn into an outdoor dining room this weekend. City restaurants have been forced to adapt to reopen under the restrictions put in place by state officials. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

Local residents will have their first taste of dining out under the new COVID-19 measures as many restaurants reopen for outdoor dining this Friday, May 22.

Under new rules that went into effect this past Monday, Rhode Island eateries may open for outdoor dining provided tables are spaced 8 feet apart with no more than five patrons per table. Seating is by reservation only, and restaurants are limited to 20 tables.

The new regulations generated much excitement in Woonsocket, where Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt announced last week the city is closing down roads around Market Square to accommodate outdoor dining. The road closures will allow restaurants to expand their outdoor dining space by setting up tables on sidewalks, parking lots and roads.

“Our restaurants have been devastated due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Baldelli-Hunt. “We have a moral obligation to take quick and decisive action to support their efforts as they attempt to reopen and offer outside dining services.”

The road closures will take place between 6 and 10 p.m. on Friday, May 22 and Friday, May 29; between noon and 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 23 and Saturday, May 30; and between noon and 10 p.m. on Sunday, May 24. According to city officials, the Main Street area of Market Square will still be accessible by vehicle during the closures.

Among those planning to take advantage of the road closures is Christopher’s Kitchen and Bar, which announced last weekend it’s accepting reservations for outdoor dining. The restaurant, which closed early on during the pandemic, is also reopening for takeout and delivery this week.

River Falls Restaurant, which began serving customers on its patio this week, is also planning to take advantage of the street closures for outdoor dining over the weekend.

Fazzini’s, an Italian restaurant located at Diamond Hill Road, is also opening for outdoor dining this weekend, though the menu will look a little different from what patrons have come to expect. Owner Eric Marsland said that between limited capacity and rising food costs, his usual menu of Italian specialties won’t be compatible with the new regulations. The cost of prime rib, he said, is up five dollars per pound, and outdoor dining will only allow him to seat about 25 percent of normal capacity.

“My food expense is going to be through the roof. I won’t be able to afford it, I’ll be out of business,” he said.

Instead, the restaurant is offering outdoor “country barbecue” nights featuring ribs, chicken and country-themed sides. Marsland and his wife, Bethany, had also hoped to hire a DJ for the occasion, but with state officials announcing entertainment licenses are on hold for the time being, those plans may have to wait.

“You’ve got to change with the times. I’m actually looking forward to this change,” he said.

Not every restaurant is taking advantage of outdoor dining. In North Smithfield, where Town Administrator Gary Ezovski issued an executive order to allow for outdoor dining last week, Ezovski said he’s seen limited interest from local restaurant owners. While a few restaurants, including Texas Roadhouse at Dowling Village, have said they’re pursuing the option, many others opted to continue with takeout or wait until restaurants can resume indoor dining.

“It’s certainly not a slam dunk for each of the restaurants, and I think that’s the circumstance around the state,” he said. “A lot of them are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach.”

At The Village Haven, owner Gary Naradowy said it’s not possible for the restaurant to open for outdoor dining, even under the current executive order. Naradowy said the current statewide restrictions force restaurant owners to jump through hoops to reopen, making it difficult for them to turn a profit.

“In my opinion, we won’t be open for at least six months for dine in,” he said. “That is because every restaurant is different, and you cannot make a boilerplate plan that fits every situation.”

The new regulations also fail to account for restaurants that rely on events for a large portion of their income. At Chan’s in Woonsocket, owner John Chan said he doesn’t know when they’ll be able to reopen the restaurant’s music venue again.

“There’s a lot of unknown right now,” he said.