After abruptly shutting down the use of igloos and outdoor dining structures last weekend, the state has reportedly approved them, with new guidelines for ventilation and safety.
In a Facebook post Friday night, the Connecticut Restaurant Association announced that enclosed outdoor structures had been approved for restaurant use. According to the post, tents or membrane-like structures are required to have adequate ventilation of fresh air being brought in, and inside air being exhausted.
Among the other guidelines: Entry door and two or more window-style vents must be open at all times, and there must be sanitization of all touchpoints in between parties. Restaurants must complete a full opening and airing out of the tent or structure, or allow 15 minutes downtime for passive dilution ventilation in between parties.
The guidelines suggest touchless service, where a restaurant server does not enter the structure. Restaurants must post signage to inform customers of the heightened risk of enclosed spaces, and that vents should remain open at all times.
“The CRA is appreciative of the Governor and his administration for working with us to provide a set of guidelines that allows Connecticut restaurants to use these enclosed outdoor structures,” said executive director Scott Dolch. “These unique dining experiences are a safe and warm alternative for guests as the weather begins to turn colder. Our goal as an association is to continue to provide solutions that will help our industry survive these challenging times, while also leading the way in safety and sanitation.”
Restaurant owners who had invested in such structures were frustrated by the ban last week, but David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees restaurant industry reopenings, said Monday that he was “starting to have conversations” with restaurant owners about updating guidelines for the outdoor edifices.
In a Monday morning webinar with Dolch, Lehman explained the initial decision, saying the state is focused on ventilation and airflow in dining spaces and officials were worried these outdoor structures may not provide enough.
The DECD did not immediately respond to the request for comment Saturday.
The update was welcome news for restaurant owners, who hoped to extend the outdoor dining season as COVID-19 restrictions continue. Tyler Anderson at Millwright’s in Simsbury worked with the DECD to modify the ventilation of his planned outdoor greenhouses and reached a resolution with the department earlier this week.
Toro Loco co-owner Tony Camilleri, who said the phone at his Farmington restaurant has been “ringing nonstop” about reservations for his plastic igloos, said he was happy with the decision. In a Facebook post Friday, the restaurant announced the igloos were approved, and thanked guests for their support.
Restaurateurs faced another blow to business this week, as Gov. Ned Lamont’s rollback to a modified version of Phase 2 of reopening returned restaurants to 50% capacity in dining rooms, and imposed a 10 p.m. closing time.
Lamont initially announced a 9:30 p.m. closing, which owners said could destroy what little profit margins restaurants now have. If diners need to be out of the building by that time, owners said, then they can’t reasonably be seated later than 8 p.m.
More than 13,000 people have signed a petition to end the early closing time. Dolch said Thursday that the CRA had asked the governor to consider an 11 p.m. shutdown on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, so restaurants wouldn’t face “a death blow” by losing a significant portion of revenue on lucrative nights.
Leeanne Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org