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Tents are up and tables are set outside; now all R.I. restaurants need are more customers

Monday was the first day that outdoor dining was allowed, but most customers preferred takeout and curbside pickup

Diners Stacey Curtis, left, and Jennifer Royster prepared to pay for their outdoor lunch at Plant City Monday.
Diners Stacey Curtis, left, and Jennifer Royster prepared to pay for their outdoor lunch at Plant City Monday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

CRANSTON -- Although the chilly spring air and overcast skies were less than welcoming on Monday, restaurants that opened for outdoor service -- the first sitdown dining experience allowed in Rhode Island in eight weeks -- were ready.

Tables were set up in parking lots, some under tents, and spaced eight feet apart. Menus were printed on single-use paper or written out on chalkboards. Some had signs thanking guests for wearing masks.

However, customers were few and far between, with most preferring to continue getting takeout or curbside pickup, perhaps until the weather improves.

Since Governor Gina M. Raimondo decided to allow restaurants to open to outdoor dining, with multiple restrictions, establishments across Rhode Island made adjustments. Some were ready to go on Monday, while others were still working out how to set up outdoor dining.

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“Last night, I felt so excited,” said Jenn Risho, the longtime general manager at R/Evolution American Bistro, in historic Pawtuxet Village. “It’s a whole new business model.”

While the restaurant normally seats 40 to 50 people in its dining area, it doesn’t have outdoor seating. So R/Evolution made adjustments. The landlord allowed the business to set up a tent in the parking lot and arrange planters at the edge for decoration.

Following the guidelines, there was just enough room to fit six tables. Still, this was a start. As soon as Raimondo announced that she’d allow outdoor dining, regulars started calling for reservations, Risho said, with at least six bookings for this evening at staggered times.

“And being a neighborhood place, we have a lot of regulars,” she added.

At Cranston’s Garden City Center, where a handful of shops have reopened over the past week, there were a slew of empty tables in the parking lot of Newport Creamery, but most customers got their ice cream to go.

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Avvio Ristorante, also in Garden City Center, had its patio waiting. There were fewer tables outside the restaurant, which ordinarily seats 200 inside. But general manager Raul Esteves was grateful.

“It’s about time,” he said.

Carol Corwin, right, enjoyed an outdoor lunch with her granddaughter Rose Flaherty at Avvio Ristorante in Cranston on Monday.
Carol Corwin, right, enjoyed an outdoor lunch with her granddaughter Rose Flaherty at Avvio Ristorante in Cranston on Monday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

This slow reopening will get people used to the new way of dining out, Esteves said. Having to wear a mask, except when eating or drinking. Being required to make reservations. Taking care to keep their distance.

And the restaurants were also getting accustomed to the new way of service. The staff was stringently cleaning and following every regulation, Esteves said.

“People should not be scared to go out to eat,” he said.

At Plant City in Providence, where a few customers sat under an expansive tent next to the two-story building housing the restaurant, general manager Steve Anderson said he was thankful for the support during the shutdown.

The past two months of takeout ordering and delivery kept them going, and although the 44 seats under the tent were far fewer than the 450 or so normally at Plant City, it was a step forward, Anderson said. "The generosity to the staff with tips has been amazing,” Anderson said. "[Customers] understand that all of the industries were hurt, but especially this one.”



Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com