Vermont restaurants open for outside dining Friday

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont restaurants starting Friday will be allowed to open for outside seating. It's a welcome turn of the spigot but it comes with strict rules for the eateries to follow and not all are able to adapt.

Preparations are in full swing for outdoor seating at Captain Tom's Tiki Bar in downtown Burlington. "We are very excited," said Deb Miller, who co-owns the Church Street bar as well as Ken's Pizza around the corner.

All restaurants can open for outdoor seating but must follow guidelines set by the state, including:

• You must call ahead.
• Tables must be spaced a minimum of 10-feet apart.
• Members of only two households and a total of 10 people may be
seated at the same table.
• Disposable menus are required.
• Operators must maintain a log of customers and their contact
information for 30 days in the event contact tracing is required.

"We will have less tables obviously," Miller said. She says they were already following strict health guidelines before the pandemic. The biggest item on the list she is worried about is people calling ahead. "I feel like the reservations thing is going to be challenging because we have so much walk up business. I feel like they are going to walk up and call us."

About a mile away on North Winooski Ave. in the Old North End, Vietnamese restaurant Pho Hong usually has outdoor seating, but Ngoc Le says the tables are too close to satisfy the new guidelines. "Not yet - we are not ready," she said. "I just read the regulation yesterday. There's sitting 10-feet apart and we have a small space here. We can probably do like two tables here."

While they are sticking to takeout, other restaurants like the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero are getting a little creative. "We are going to make it work," said co-owner Mandy Hotchkiss. She says once she heard the news, she realized her setup didn't work, so they are putting up a tent. "Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would actually take my indoor restaurant within 48 hours and completely move it outside."

Hotchkiss says they can follow the guidelines outside. "It's a visual, too. It's saying to people -- social distance, wear your mask, do what you need to do to feel comfortable -- use your sanitizer-- but we are here and we are open," she said.

But will people show up to eat? People we spoke with Thursday say they're ready to return to a restaurant.

"I think we have to get back to doing what we were doing, to some degree," said Sarah Colby of Jericho.

"There are some people who are hesitant and they will stay in, or maybe do curbside, but at least we will have the option to get out, which is exciting," said Cynthia Stuart of Concord.

One thing that's still unclear in Burlington is whether the city will eliminate parking spaces or even shut down streets so restaurants can set up more outdoor seating. We are expecting to learn more about that Friday at Mayor Miro Weinberger's media briefing.