Federal Hill restaurants propose expansion of outdoor seating once RI begins to reopen

Business News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ While restaurants across the state prepare for the possibility of outdoor dining during phase one of reopening Rhode Island, some are already proposing ways to make the most of that option.

During her daily coronavirus briefing Monday, Gov. Gina Raimondo said if she were to allow the stay-at-home order to expire at the end of this week and phase one of reopening to begin, limited outdoor dining would be allowed until later in the phase.

She also said in order to move forward with outdoor dining, restaurants would have to function under new restrictions, including table arrangements adhering to social distancing guidelines, mandatory reservations and certain single-use items, among others.

Rick Simone, president of the Federal Hill Commerce Association, said he believes about 50% of restaurants on Federal Hill will skip outdoor dining in phase one because it isn’t financially feasible.

But for the restaurants that decide to participate, Simone wants to ensure they are successful.

“We are going to put a proposal together with the city of Providence to close Atwells Avenue in sections so that the restaurants can spill right out into the streets,” Simone said.

Simone said this will allow for expanded outdoor seating, which he said is so important given the social distancing restrictions that will greatly affect capacity.

“Typically, on a good night, we can seat 150 to 160 people out here on this patio,” Simone said during an interview on the patio of Andino’s restaurant Monday. “A lot more tables are going to have to be separated in order to do this. So, they would lose about half, if not more, of that capacity with the six feet apart.”

Eyewitness News reached out to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office Monday to see if the mayor would consider a plan to close down parts of Atwells Ave in order to expand outdoor dining.

Spokesperson Emily Crowell said the city is currently considering what a reopen will look like and is looking to state guidelines in order to better inform their decisions.

Gabriel Costantino, the general manager at Costantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante, said it’s encouraging to hear outdoor dining could be on the table in phase one.

“We’re ready to start up business again – to not be closed,” Costantino said. “Bring employees back. Get everybody working again.”

While Venda’s market has remained open, Costantino said his restaurant has been closed since restrictions were first put in place. He also said most of his employees have been furloughed.

Even with the possibility of resuming business, Costantino said he knows there would be limitations.

“In the summertime, we could have about 300 people in the plaza,” Costantino said. “So, it would shrink that a lot with the six-feet restriction in between tables.”

While Costantino hasn’t been able to determine what outdoor seating would look like at Venda, he said when he made social distancing plans for inside the restaurant, 30 percent of his seating was lost.

As Simone looks to expand outdoor dining by shutting down parts of Atwells Ave, he said the timing of Raimondo’s phases is key.

“If you’re talking that we could be at phase two and have some new regulations in place before the end of May, then yes, that would make a big difference because you’re talking about coming into Memorial Day,” he said.

For the time being, Simone is urging people to continue ordering takeout or delivery from Federal Hill business. He said about half of businesses on Federal Hill are currently offering those options.

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