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Providence restaurants respond to new closing times

Mill's Tavern in Providence. (WJAR)
Mill's Tavern in Providence. (WJAR)
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Restaurants across Rhode Island have mixed emotions after learning some of them have to close their doors earlier than normal amid new coronavirus guidelines.

Gov. Gina Raimondo made an announcement implementing a stay at home advisory Thursday, which means restaurants must close by 10 p.m. during the week and 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The change is something industry leaders spent days talking about with the state.

"We did have a lot of dialogue and we heard them," said Raimondo when asked about input from hospitality industry groups.

She said the conversations are why she is allowing restaurants to stay open an hour later than neighboring states.

"They took what we said to heart and made as good as a decision as they could," said Sam Glynn, owner of Chomp Kitchen and Drinks in Providence and Warren.

Glynn said a 9:30 p.m. closing time would have hurt tremendously. He anticipates 10:30 p.m. will impact business too, but he is not sure how much yet.

"Psychologically, I think a lot of people are going to keep that in mind when choosing whether to get that extra drink or that burger," said Glynn.

On Federal Hill, some restaurants owners are discouraged by the announcement, explaining business is going to be greatly impacted by the new hours.

Rick Simone, of the Federal Hill Commerce Association, said some businesses may not be able to stay open, as businesses often make thousands of dollars late at night.

"At the end of the day, we have to accept what has been provided to us, but it's not what is effective or what we believe is going to work," said Simone. "It does not seem from a public health standpoint, that this is the right move."

For Armando Bisceglia, his restaurant, Bacco Vino & Contorni, is smaller and can only fit so many people inside and out.

"If you can only fit 15, 20 people at a time in the restaurant, you need to get to that 9 o'clock, 9:30," said Bisceglia.

Bisceglia said he is frustrated because he has worked so hard to follow the guidelines.

"It's been a long and tiresome year, but this I think is the one that hurts the most," said Bisceglia.

Further down on Federal Hill, the dining room manager at Pane e Vino, Joseph Dequattro, said they too are unhappy with the state's decision, calling it unfair.

"We've already worked very hard to make sure the guests who come in here are safe. We're taking a lot of extra steps during the night, during service," explained Dequattro.

Raimondo said to help restaurants the state would be allowing them to apply for a $2,000 to $10,000 grant if they can prove their losses, but some restaurants said that put them over the edge.

"I feel like that's a bit insulting," said Dequattro. "I think if you want the restaurant owners to be happy, I think you are going to have to start the negotiation a bit higher."

Simone said small restaurants will lose a few thousand in the first night they can't stay open later. That amount increases tremendously based on the size, he explained.

"A restaurant that sits 50, 60 people is going to lose upwards of 8 or 10 thousand dollars in the first hour," said Simone.

There are some businesses in the Providence area that said they will not be impacted by the new mandate because they have already closed early during the pandemic.

"Without having our bar open, we don't get the late-night crowd," said Kate Turner, the general manager at Mill's Tavern.

Despite so much loss, she remains optimistic and was appreciative of the work she said the Rhode Island Hospitality Association has done for businesses.

During a virtual meeting for the Hospitality Association, president and CEO, Dale Venturini, said the association started speaking with the state and gathering data as soon as they saw what Massachusetts and Connecticut did.

"I can't tell you enough about how commerce has listened," said Venturni.

She said the Commerce Association agreed not only to do an hour later than other states, but also agreed not to implement it immediately.

Commerce Secretary, Stefan Pryor, did clarify closing times during the Hospitality Association meeting after the press conference.

"It is not a mandate that everyone vacate a restaurant by 10 during the week or 10:30 on the weekend, instead it is a requirement that there be an end of service to tables at those hours. So, 10 and 10:30 are the last time to serve customers in a restaurant or bar, but there is some leeway for people to conclude their meals then get home," said Pryor.

The deadline for restaurants to submit applications to get the grants for money loss is mid-November, according to the Hospitality Association.

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