PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The pandemic continues to take a significant toll on Rhode Island’s restaurant industry, with 16 area eateries confirming to 12 News they have closed or will be closing as a result.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that financial help is on the way for restaurants, but some owners say it’s too little, too late.
Birch, an award-winning restaurant in Providence, announced Tuesday they will close their doors once they’re unable to have outdoor dining.
The East Greenwich Red Stripe Restaurant location has closed, but its Providence location is still open.
Other restaurants say they had to close due to capacity restrictions, a lack of employees, or the investments required to meet COVID-19 mandates.
“Every little bit counts. That extra money is critical right now,” said Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association.
Raimondo said she will be expanding eligibility requirements for Restore RI grants. Starting next week, any restaurant showing more than 30% loss of profit or with fewer than 50 employees can apply for financial assistance.
That funding is in addition to the $150,000 each association can apply for through the governor’s Take It Outside campaign.
Rick Simone of the Federal Hill Commerce Association said these expansions are needed.
“When you had the grant program that only gave $7 million out of the $50 million, it was the realization that more people wanted to apply, but needed the process to be less cumbersome,” Simone added.
Venturini said she is fearful more closures will be added to the list soon.
“What I hear is that we are going to see many more as the weather gets colder,” she said.
Outdoor dining has been described as a saving grace for restaurants during the pandemic, but as we head into fall, plans to keep patrons at those tables are already in the works.
“We’ve all become pretty reliant on outdoor dining,” Constantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante general manager Gabriel Constantino said. “It’s really difficult with the spacing guidelines to get enough people inside.”
Simone said they’ve already seen a difference as it continues to get cooler outside.
“This past weekend, we had a report that business was down by 27% across the board for restaurants because the temperatures dropped,” he explained.
On Wednesday, Raimondo said she hopes the extra money will help restaurants prolong outdoor dining through the purchase of items like “heating lamps, outdoor furniture, tents, bike racks, tables, chairs, lighting.”
Matthew Carletti, who works at The District restaurant in Providence, says he’s hoping to get some heating lamps to keep outdoor dining going as long as possible.
Like many restaurants, The District is struggling with the loss of bar seating and not operating at full capacity indoors. Carletti says parking lot seating and street closures to make room for tables on the weekend has helped the restaurant stay afloat.
“Whatever we can recoup outside, we’re trying to do,” Carletti said. “And if it’s a third of that, two-thirds of that, that’s what we’re trying to do for as long as we can.”
Simone says Federal Hill would need more money to keep its Al Fresco Dining going throughout the fall.
“I think the money they have allotted right now will help some places get started,” he said. “The question is, ‘how long we can make that money last?'”
The dining associations also issued a reminder that if you’re not comfortable going out to eat, you can still support local restaurants by ordering takeout or buying gift cards.