Restaurant, hospitality leaders criticize governor’s new business-hour restrictions

PROVIDENCE Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s new restrictions announced on Thursday included early curfews for restaurants and bars that industry leaders say will hurt businesses throughout the state.

Rick Simone, executive director of the Federal Hill Commerce Association, said he was in contact with the governor’s team leading up to her press conference on Thursday.

“This is not a happy situation,” said Simone, adding that it’s not as though restaurants have a lack of understanding for public health as the industry already participates in high-levels of cleaning and food safety protocols. “And everyone’s in a panic.”

Restauranteur Armando Bisceglia, who opened Bacco Vino & Contori on Federal Hill three weeks before the shutdown in March, and was finally counting on the holiday season to boost his sales as the weather gets colder.

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“Out of all of the mandates to restaurants, this one hurts the most,” said Bisceglia, who recently had state inspectors come into his restaurant during a Saturday-night rush to check for masks. “We’ve followed the rules. We were told that we were doing it right. We’ve spent thousands in plexiglass and outdoor furniture. And now we’re being punished.”

Bisceglia said he expects to lose approximately $2,000 per night in sales with the new curfew.

“Just the other night, I had a group come in for dinner. I couldn’t fit them in so I said to come back later,” said Bisceglia. “Now we have to close early and I can’t do that.”

The governor’s announcement was similar to Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent restriction to close restaurants state-wide at 9:30 p.m. Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont followed soon after. Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the R.I. Hospitality Association said it was then that she got nervous.

Raimondo was allegedly planning on implementing a 9:30 p.m. curfew, but RIHA advocated for a later time, according to a statement by Venturini.

“The additional restrictions are difficult for restaurants already struggling,” said Venturini. “But we are thankful that Gov. Raimondo and R.I. Commerce listened to RIHA to minimize the impact as much as possible.”

In Rhode Island, the new restrictions have bars and restaurants closing at 10:00 p.m. on weeknights and 10:30 p.m. on weekends.

For the last month, Raimondo has encouraged restaurants and other businesses to “take it outside” in an initiative that provided grants for intermediaries such as the R.I. Hospitality Association.

“We did everything that was asked,” said Simone. “Now we’re closing early, ahead of a week where it’s 70 degrees out.”

Raimondo also announced grants that will be provided to businesses that can prove losses due to having to close early. These grants will range from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the amount of business they estimate that they’re going to lose. Raimondo said during her press conference Thursday that she knows that these grants will “not be enough,” but more of something to help out. Venturini said restaurant owners should expect this grant amount based on the sales tax revenue reported from July, August and September.

Simone, however, doesn’t think the grant amounts are enough.

“It’s an insult,” he said. “We’re sitting on a lot of money [in CARES Act funds] with a little bit of time to spend it.”

Simone said that even in a 30-seat restaurant, a $2,000 grant is only one-quarter of sales for their evening. At an establishment, such as Ristorante Il Massimo on Atwells Avenue, the losses will be much greater.

“If it’s just two weeks, there will be losses,” said Simone. “If it’s more than two weeks, there will be layoffs and closures.”

Alexa Gagosz is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Gagosz@PBN.com. You may also follow her on Twitter at @AlexaGagosz.