By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Since mid-March, North Attleborough’s restaurants have been limited to takeout and delivery service, but a new option has brought customers back to the tables.
Several of the town’s dining establishments have set up tables, chairs, tents, and fences to create their own outdoor dining section. For many, this is the first time utilizing such a method, and it’s proven successful. At the Mad Moose Saloon, staff set up four tables in the parking lot and two smaller ones in front. Owner Ceil Weeman said that sales have been up by a third since they started doing this on June 12, and reservations have been pretty consistent.
“It’s proving popular,” said Weeman. “It’s not what it once was, but it’s definitely better [than before].”
Other locations that have made this change include Mackie’s Restaurant, JD’s Restaurant, Habibi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen, Los Antojitos, Stells Osteria and Table at 10, and Dragon Garden.
A plan was reviewed to close part of the downtown area on the weekends to allow for a dining area to be set up in the street. However, this proved unfeasible due to the cost as well as the logistics, according to Town Manager Michael Borg. Expenses included police and fire department details for each evening, which Borg said may not be reimbursable through the CARES Act. Signed into law in the early days of the pandemic, the CARES Act provides federal reimbursement for necessary COVID-19-related expenses, such as cleaning supplies.
Another concern was fairness to other business owners. The plan only applied to those on North Washington Street, and Borg said those with restaurants elsewhere in town wouldn’t be able to take part.
“We all worked to see if it could happen,” said Borg. “As we went through process, it just became a behemoth of requirements that would become cost-prohibitive to the town.”
At Los Antojitos, Owner Heidi Romero and staff have created an elaborate outdoor setup with lights, a red tent, and several tables. They’ve switched to plastic cups and utensils and paper plates, and use a QR code for the menu so customers can download them to their phones. Though it was a challenge to get everything in place, she said that she’s dealt with far worse, and is happy to see people dining outside.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself,” she said. “We want to be there for the community.”
During the lockdown, Antojitos immediately switched to takeout and also donated food to the fire and police departments and the YMCA. Romero said the outdoor area is usually packed when they open at 4 p.m. and close at 9:30 and she hopes to continue it once indoor dining resumes.
“Everybody here is happy,” she said.
Peter Kalemkeridis, who owns the Stone Ridge Grill and Bar, said this was the first time they’ve offered outdoor dining, and the results have been very positive. Their new section can seat up to 32 people. Constant cleaning of the tables, social distancing, staff being masked, paper menus, and taking reservations is common at many of these establishments.
“They’re really happy, people are excited to get out,” he said. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody’s lived through anything like this.”
Indoor dining resumed on Monday, June 22, under Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-phase reopening plan, though with a number of restrictions. One of these is a heavily reduced capacity, which has some owners concerned. Paul Markis, one of the partners at Stella Osteria and Table at 10, said the seven tables they have outside have been very popular and may need to remain to balance what they’ll lose inside.
“We need to fully staff up,” he said. “We’ll suck it up, but we need to know how long it will last. They can’t play around with people’s lives.”
Markis said the town government has been great to work with and very supportive of the small businesses. It’s been busy since they first offered the outdoor service, with many familiar faces returning.
“Our customers love it,” said Markis. “Everyone has their favorite dishes that they haven’t been getting for two to three months.”
The parking lot behind Habibi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen has been transformed into a 13-table dining area with four more to be added to the front. Owner Roy Sakr said it was hard to find the tables and chairs, as they’ve been in demand with many other locations. He joked that he had hadn’t slept for three days between running the restaurant and searching for tables.
“I was fighting to find shipments,” he said with a smile.
Once he got the area set up and posted it to Facebook, people called to make their reservations.
“We miss our customers,” he said. “We have a good relationship with our customers.”
Box Seats had a three-table outdoor area prior to the pandemic, but also expanded on this with 12 tables under a tent in their parking lot, allowing for dining—rain or shine. Owner Charlie Tgibedes said this setup has taken some getting used to, between all the regulations as well as taking the food outside. But after a week of trial and error, he and the staff have a good handle on it, and he plans to continue to offer it once indoor dining resumes.
“We didn’t even get the tent erected before the phone was ringing, asking if we were open,” he said.