Westport officials reflect on future of outdoor dining as COVID restrictions decrease




That’s the concern of the local health director, who is concerned about the impact that outdoor restaurant seating added during the COVID-19 pandemic will have on restaurants now that restrictions on dining at the interior have been largely lifted.

On June 23, Westport Weston Health District Director Mark Cooper sent a letter to Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Michelle Perillie detailing the potential safety issues associated with keeping alfresco dining at pandemic levels.

“During Connecticut’s COVID-19 pandemic efforts to keep restaurants viable, al fresco dining was seen as a way for restaurants to maintain an acceptable level of service, due to the governor’s directive that only 50% of the inner capacity could be used, ”Cooper wrote. . “WWHD has supported the creation of safer outdoor dining areas, which has essentially given catering establishments a way to approach their approved maximum seating capacity – 50% indoors and 50% outside. ‘outside. “


But now that most of the COVID restrictions have been lifted, Cooper said, restaurants can return to 100% of their capacity indoors.

“The problem is, with the return of indoor meals, are we going to overload the restaurant’s capacity to serve food,” Cooper said Thursday.


For example, he said, a restaurant could be equipped to handle 100 seats. During the pandemic, he said, they should have reduced to 50 seats inside, but added 50 seats outside to compensate. Now they can go back to 100 seats inside, Cooper said, but they might want to keep those extra 50 seats outside. However, they might not be equipped to handle these additional seats.

If restaurants are to scramble to meet increased demand, Cooper said, they could lose sight of safety concerns, leading to unsafe conditions and possibly even outbreaks of foodborne illness.

“You can’t let your (health inspection) scores go down,” he said. “We cannot see you in danger. “

In his email to Perillie, Cooper requested that the health department be given the opportunity to review all outdoor dining proposals to assess the facility’s ability to safely handle additional seating. Cooper’s application was considered Wednesday at a virtual meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission review subcommittee.

Many in attendance, including some local restaurateurs, wanted to grab onto an al fresco meal. Howard Bass, whose wife, Stacy Bass, is one of the owners of Manna Toast on Church Lane, said he hopes alfresco dining can stay.

“New York has opened up so much space on the streets to alfresco dining and I think it offers incredible dynamism,” he said.

However, some have pointed out that, during COVID, some restaurants were able to open their meals outdoors on city streets, some of which were closed for this purpose. Other companies did not have this luxury.

RTM member Sal Liccione, who serves the city’s ninth district, said after the meeting that he would prefer to see a more level playing field.

“What is good for one should be good for all,” he said.

Steven Carpentieri, owner of Dunville Restaurant on Saugatuck Avenue, said the goal of allowing alfresco dining was to help offset the reduction in indoor capacity imposed by the pandemic – not to allow the de facto expansion of certain restaurants. He said some facilities, like his, could not extend onto city property.

Instead, Carpentieri said, he closed part of his parking lot to add tables. He said he understood wanting to keep meals inside, but wanted it to be done in a safe and fair manner.

“You have to create a better platform for everyone to participate,” he said.



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