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Connecticut Restaurants Take Upbeat View Despite Uncertain Future

  • Restaurants have been one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, but have survived through innovation and adaptability
  • Food service business openings on pace with 2018 despite headwinds
  • Colder weather, rising COVID-19 cases present challenges in near term

Restaurants have been one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, as health restrictions forced shutdowns or restrictions and put thousands of people of out work. However, many eateries have bounced back and are optimistic about the future despite near-term uncertainty.

John Dankosky, in the CT Mirror’s “Steady Habits” podcast, recently discussed the state of Connecticut’s restaurant industry with Hartford Courant reporter Leeanne Griffin and chef Ty Anderson. Griffin noted how the closure of venues such as downtown business offices and theaters eliminated a large portion of the customer base for many restaurants, but that strategies such as meal kits and to-go cocktails helped them endure the slowdown in business. Food trucks missed out on revenue from large events, such as concerts, but also managed to stay afloat by new strategies such as partnering with breweries that needed a food option in order to serve beer to customers.

Anderson says he has rehired his employees and even expanded the number of people working at his restaurants. He said that while he has employed some new strategies such as setting up a kitchen trailer to continue offering food, restaurant owners must also consider whether such purchases will be good long-term investments.

The rising number of COVID-19 cases, limited outdoor dining options as colder weather arrives, and uncertainty of new state or federal aid present some challenges to restaurants. Connecticut’s Phase 3 reopening rules allow restaurants to reach 75 percent capacity for indoor dining, but some venues cannot reach this capacity while also keeping customers a safe distance apart. Governor Ned Lamont recently chided restaurants who don’t abide by these rules, particularly “bars masquerading as restaurants,” saying such behavior could result in more infections and hinting that it could lead to greater restrictions on all restaurants.

The restaurant and food service industry has proved surprisingly resilient in the face of the pandemic. A recent Yelp survey found that new business openings in this sector are about equal to those of 2018, although brick-and-mortar eateries have been less prevalent than businesses such as food trucks and pop-ups.

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