Governor Charlie Baker announced Thursday that beginning on Monday, Jan. 25, a 9:30 p.m. curfew on businesses will be lifted as COVID-19 numbers trend in a positive direction. Boston restaurateurs reacted with cautious optimism about the loosening.
Matt Casey, director of operations at Back Bay Social, Lucky’s, and Sonsie, was pleased by the change, saying that it would give workers an emotional boost.
“We’re very excited that the curfew may be being lifted. Any additional revenue is a huge help. Any step in a positive direction towards going back to normal will lift the spirits of all of us in the restaurant industry,” he said.
Alexandra Morris, director of operations at the Barking Crab, said that the change could buoy diners’ confidence about eating out.
“The message it sends is that restaurants aren’t the problem. With the curfew, the messages seemed to be somewhat that the government was saying restaurants are high risk — but what ended up happening was people gathering at holidays, not at restaurants, created the COVID-19 spike. Restaurants that follow proper protocols are low risk, and I think it’s sending a message,” she said.
Other restaurateurs were not as sanguine. Chris Coombs, who runs Boston Chops, Deuxave, and dbar, said that restrictions on capacity, not timing, are the issue. While the loosening of restrictions make him feel “hopeful,” he worried about ongoing caps on customer numbers, which Baker said will stay in place for the time being.
“I think that the biggest barrier to our industry right now is not related to the closing hours; it’s the 25 percent capacity,” he said. “I am still not in agreement with the 25 percent capacity structure, because it doesn’t mean the same thing for every restaurant. Building occupancies in Boston are so different based on what year they were acquired,” he said.
Restaurateur Jen Royle, who runs the North End’s Table, was also skeptical.
“Personally, the 9:30 p.m. curfew has had no effect on my business. I’ve never had a reservation past 8 o’clock. The capacity is what really hurt us and, I assume, other small restaurants like mine. At 25 percent, my capacity has been 12 people for the past two months, so I haven’t even bothered to open. I know one restaurant down the street with a capacity of five. With those numbers, your payroll will exceed your revenue. It’s terrible. No curfew lift can change that,” she said.
Coombs said he hopes that there’s a stronger focus on social distancing instead of capacity restrictions going forward.
“I believe in social distancing. If restaurants are following social distancing, there is no need to impart 25 percent,” he said.