Most R.I. restaurants open – for now

At Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s daily briefings over the weekend on what the state is doing to contain the local spread of the coronavirus, the question was raised by reporters if restaurants and bars were being ordered to close in the face of the current requirements that large social gatherings be curtailed.

The answer as of Sunday is no, though she is urging Rhode Islanders to stay away from any place crowds gather, including restaurants. So, what should restaurant owners do?

Richard Sardella, proprietor and co-owner of Sardella’s and Imbriglio’s in Newport and a former city mayor said, “While we are observing all government guidelines and going above and beyond our usual best practices of cleansing and disinfecting to keep Sardella’s and Imbriglio’s clean and our ‘staff family’ safe, we are aware there have been guidelines issued and those who want to avoid bigger crowds for a while.

“So takeout is available for social distancing,” he added. “The current crisis is a far different situation from blizzards and other natural disasters where people lose power and welcome a restaurant being open. We will continue to be responsive to the needs and the health of our community.”

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Kristen Adamo, executive director of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, on Sunday said, “Our restaurant partners have gone to great lengths to keep their staff and their customers safe, while continuing to operate their businesses. They know that certain rules need to be put in place and that people have concerns. More than 60 local restaurants have told us they are offering takeout or delivery options, which may be found on GoProvidence.com. Additionally, many have made it a point to tell the public they are adhering to best practices in sanitizing and social distancing.

“At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goal – to keep Rhode Islanders safe – and our organization will help our partners and local officials in any way we can,” she added.

Owner-operated restaurants in the state have stepped up to inform regular guests and the general public about procedures they are putting into effect. Most posted on their social media networks, including chef-proprietor Lou Perella at Perella’s Ristorante in Warren:

“Perella’s Ristorante will remain open during the current coronavirus issue,” he said. “I want to assure my customers that my staff and I are taking all measures to prevent the spread of this virus. … My staff and I have been trained by an in-house public health consultant in proper personal hygiene and food-handling measures to minimize possible transmission.”

Restaurant managers across the state are practicing social distancing, spacing seating. A large number of restaurants are offering curbside pickup. Others have established delivery options.

John Moubayed of CAV Restaurant in Providence said that his eatery, like many restaurants, saw a slowdown over the past week. He anticipates that this will last and might get worse right thru at least the end of May.  As far as best practices, he said, “We are obviously sanitizing everything (menus, salt and pepper shakers, chairs and door handles) before during and after every shift. We are creating some social distance, seating every other table.  Our staff is very aware of washing and sanitizing and will keep at it.”

There have been a small number of restaurants that are closing temporarily. Gracie’s in Providence announced on its social media that it will “take a two-week spring break,” effective March 16. Proprietor Ellen Slattery in an email said, “Ellie’s will be open with reduced hours starting on Monday. … All our menu items are available on Grub Hub for pickup or delivery.”

In addition, north in the Dean Hotel in Providence announced a complete shutdown until further notice.

Will there be a forced closure of restaurants or their business limited to deliveries, as has happened in some other states and countries?

Mike Healey, spokesman for the state’s health department, told Providence Business News such decisions by state officials are being decided “day to day.”

“The governor said again [on Sunday] that the state’s COVID-19 response is evolving rapidly and things will change,” he added. “That’s certainly the case with the restaurant industry, which obviously is a very important sector of our economy.”

Bruce Newbury’s “Dining Out” radio talk show is heard Saturdays at 11 a.m. on 1540 AM WADK, on radio throughout New England, through various mobile applications and his podcast. Email Bruce at Bruce@brucenewbury.com.