BYOB initiative connects community through trying times

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Photo by Marina Engler '21

With stricter regulations being put on indoor dinning, restaurants have been forced to adapt. To help restaurants stay open, the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce started the Bring Your Own Blanket event to promote outdoor seating.

Ella Stoler '22, Broadcast Director

It’s Friday night at Westport’s newest restaurant. The bar has a steady flow of customers and tables are filled. While COVID restrictions have significantly hurt many local businesses, this local establishment has figured out a way to survive – but not without some help from the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce’s (WWCC). The organization’s newest initiative, Bring Your Own Blanket (BYOB), was launched on Nov. 4 in an effort to keep restaurants afloat in the winter months by promoting outdoor seating and encouraging a sense of normalcy within the Westport community. 

As COVID cases continue to spike, Westporters’ willingness to dine inside establishments has diminished. To tend to Connecticut residents’ safety concerns, Governor Ned Lamont recently issued an executive order requiring restaurants to close at 9:30 p.m. and limiting the indoor dining capacity to 50% from 75%. 

However, Westport restaurants have stepped up to the challenges posed by COVID regulations. Many intend to keep up business by providing comfortable and inviting outdoor seating experiences for their customers. Restaurants like Hudson Malone have built enclosures and set up heat lamps to complement the WWCC’s initiative. 

Opening in the middle of the pandemic, the restaurant’s original layout was designed to follow COVID regulations, according to employee Sam Seideman ’21. 

“We haven’t lost as much business as most restaurants because we were so prepared for outdoor dining from the start,” Seideman ’21 said. “Our outdoor seating patio is socially distanced, covered by a tent, and heated by an outdoor fireplace as well as several heat lamps.”

Seideman also noted the restaurant’s dilemma in maintaining the outdoor dining concepts in the winter months. While the area is enclosed by a tent to keep the cold temperatures out, it must remain partially open to satisfy COVID regulations. 

One of the good things to come out of the 2020 pandemic experience is the expanded ability for Westport restaurants to offer outdoor dining, and Westport diners have responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, BYOB is a terrific way to ‘keep the party going’ through the winter months while supporting our great local restaurant scene.”

— First Selectman Jim Marpe

Several Westporters have expressed interest in participating in the concept, eager to support our local restaurants.

“I brought a blanket to Bartaco this weekend and we sat in their outdoor dining area under several heat lamps,” Merel Kanter ’22 said. “I’m so happy to still be able to go out to dinner in a safe way.”

The Westport community has helped to encourage the program by sharing the concept through social media platforms. The WWCC reports a positive response from both restaurants and residents.

Although the organization has always had a significant role in our community, the WWCC notes how their work has changed during these unprecedented times. 

“The Chamber has become the go to place for COVID information and support,” Matthew Mandell, Executive Director & President of WWCC, said. “Not only did we have early information on government funding, we actively created online events to give the community things to do and helped them reach our businesses.”

In an interview with Westport News the WWCC shared their ultimate goal for the initiative, and offered a positive spin to the unprecedented situation.

“One of the good things to come out of the 2020 pandemic experience is the expanded ability for Westport restaurants to offer outdoor dining, and Westport diners have responded with overwhelming enthusiasm,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said. “BYOB is a terrific way to ‘keep the party going’ through the winter months while supporting our great local restaurant scene.”

A list of restaurants offering outdoor dining can be found at: https://www.westportwestonchamber.com/outdoordining/