Nearly a fifth of restaurants in Bay State have closed permanently due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, and others are wondering if they will survive the fall and winter.
Of roughly 16,000 across the state, 3,400 have closed their doors for good, said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the association. The rest now offer customers roadside delivery, indoor dining, or outdoor dining.
“Unsurprisingly, outdoor seating has become very popular with customers contracting the virus,” Luz said.
But restaurants that have space for al fresco dining also worry about what the future holds for them when the weather turns cold.
Owners are preparing for fall by buying heaters and tents for outside use, he said. However, the state only allows outdoor dining until late November.
“Some guests will not choose to come into the house,” he said. “Takeout is getting even more popular.”
Boston has been particularly hard hit, Luz said, because many people in the suburbs continue to work from home and not come into town.
“It’s a very challenging time and a very precarious future for restaurants across the city, state and the country,” said Luz. “We’re in the unusual position of having to go to the state and federal government for help, while restaurants are typically the most philanthropic industry.”
Donato Frattaroli’s North End restaurant, Il Molo, has been closed indefinitely since the beginning of this year as the state has not yet allowed bars to reopen and Il Molo’s bar accounted for about 20% of the restaurant’s capacity. Frattaroli had to lay off his employees, although he was able to give some the opportunity to work at his other restaurant, Victory Point in Quincy.
There, around 40% of the business relied on the bar, so Frattaroli had to get creative, install tall tables around the bar and use his outdoor seating. But with social distancing, he has to use fewer tables.
For the past three weeks, he’s opened a takeout pizzeria and ice cream parlor in Victory Point to pay his bills, keep his 60 employees busy and hopefully accompany him through the fall and winter, he said.
Tony Maws said Craigie Burger, the Fenway restaurant he was partnered at, closed in March and his other restaurant, Craigie on Main in Cambridge, sold take-out groceries. Two weeks ago he opened Craigie Next Door, an outdoor restaurant in a former parking lot.
“We’re working on 30 percent of our normal volume,” said Maws, co-founder of Massachusetts Restaurants United. “Fall is just around the corner, outdoor dining will go away, our PPP (Paycheck Protection Program loan) will run out, and independent restaurants will die.”
Ultimately, he said, it will be a loss not only to property owners like him and the employees they have to lay off, but to everyone.
“Independent restaurants are the taste and personality of your main streets,” Maws said. “We support many other companies, including farmers and suppliers. It is in everyone’s interest that independent restaurants survive. “