SHORELINE – Memorial Day weekend is the official kick-off to summer here. And that means lobster rolls, clams on the grill, warm weather and outdoor dining.

But this Memorial Day is unlike any other in recent memory. Shoreline restaurateurs are anxious to welcome diners back after months of quarantine.

Many eateries across the Shoreline have stayed open, serving meals curbside, but with new regulations, in effect May 20, restaurants offering outdoor seating could begin serving at their establishments.

And, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend, which begins Friday.

At the iconic Bill’s Seafood, on the Patchogue River in Westbrook, staff have been working since day one of the restrictions to serve their customers.

“Right from the beginning it’s been a whirlwind,” said General Manager Mark Leopoldino. “We’ve been adjusting almost daily. I’d say we’ve been adjusting on the fly. I think today is day 58 of our takeout business, which was a huge adjustment.”

For outdoor dining, eating establishments are required to follow state guidelines, monitored by town health departments.

These include tables 6 feet apart, keeping social distancing in mind; informational signage, including a state phone number to report infractions and hand sanitizer and hand washing stations throughout the facility.

At Bill’s, known for its lobster rolls, steamers, stuffed shrimp and fried seafood platters, diners may sit outside, enjoy the food and feed the seagulls on the river — but with a few décor and location changes.

Picnic tables, topped with colorful umbrellas will be available for dining on the ever-popular deck, as will picnic tables under a large white tent set up in the lower parking area, which is not on the water.

Another Shoreline restaurant that sits on a river is Lenny’s Indian Head Inn on the Sybil River in Branford. Customers flock to this local eatery for their shore dinner platters, steamers and “overall atmosphere, the fun atmosphere,” said co-owner Christopher Conlin.

Even with all the guidelines, he believes the festive atmosphere will reign.

“The guidelines will be in place, but I think the families of five can sit down together and enjoy a restaurant-cooked meal together and they’ll have fun, they definitely will,” he added.

Conlin is excited to welcome back everyone.

“It feels great, I think,” he said. “Hopefully there’s enough demand and people will want to come out. We’ll be ready.”

Down the Shoreline, going East, at Saybrook Point Resort and Marina, they are preparing for their annual Memorial Day lobster bake, complete with live music to be held on their impressive patio and multiple decks.

“The marina is open, so some boats have arrived and they typically will really start to arrive Memorial Day weekend,” said Director of Marketing Candace Engdall.

“It’s usually really busy, but we always do have some live music and a lobster bake so we’re just trying to do it in a safe manner, respecting the guidelines…” she added.

“We’re excited and we’re hopeful that some people can get out and enjoy it,” she said.

Across from the Guilford marina, Pa’s Place is also working hard to be ready for the holiday weekend. Pa’s Place has always offered dining on their patio overlooking a tidal inlet, long before the pandemic.

“It’s exciting,” said Mike Rowell, head chef and manager.

“I’m hoping for a lot of business, but also people have to get back in the swing of things,” he added. “I know people want to get out of their houses, also, so I’m hoping for some good business.”

Rowell, along with many other restaurants along the shoreline, have been working hard to comply with new regulations and, most importantly, keep their staff and customers safe while COVID-19 remains a concern.

“There’s quite a bit of stuff that goes into opening an outside restaurant for right now and a lot of it’s a lot different than what we had to do before,” Rowell added.

“Everything basically marked and labeled so customers know where to go, so people aren’t on top of each other,” Rowell explained.

Up the road a bit, on the Guilford Green is Chapter One Food & Drink Guilford. They are preparing their tasteful backyard patio to welcome back guests. This comes after weeks of takeout only.

“Little excited, a little nervous to get everything prepared,” said General Manager Alex Ruggiero. “We’re excited to be able to serve the community here again and where they can actually come in and get the full experience or new experience really.”

He anticipates having about tables to accommodate about 25 people, after adjusting for social distancing. This is down from their normal number of about 50 diners. Normally the patio is a favorite with diners as it overlooks the sculpture garden at the Greene Art Gallery.

Working alongside, since COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, is Executive Chef Bret Pangelina.

“Every week we have to completely reinvent what we’re doing in order to best serve the community, because it’s a step by step process and that’s going to continue,” he said. “It’s just a day by day, week by week, is as far as we can go.”

At Madison’s Lenny & Joe’s Fishtale curbside pickup service has been brisk. For owner Jim Schreck the most important point has always been safety, which means social distancing inside and outside the restaurant.

Currently, the staff has been cut in half, allowing for social distancing in the kitchen and ordering area. That will not change when outside dining opens up again.

“What we’ll wind up doing outside is, we’ll open it up little by little,” said Schreck.

While the ice cream shack and limited seating will be available this Memorial Day Weekend and beyond, plus continuation of curbside pickup, the popular carousel will remain closed for the season.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to support the whole outdoor area or even half of it just because we can’t bring in the staffing levels to cook for all those seats,” he said.

When completely open outside, Shreck said they have about 110 picnic tables.

“We’ll start off with maybe 15 tables and make sure we can service both the curbside and the 15 tables and then, if I feel we’re doing that well we’ll go to 20 and take it like it comes,” he said.

“It’s all new...my primary goal, in everything that I’m doing, is to keep people safe,” he stressed.

This is paramount for all businesses.

“We’ll have sanitizing stations, everybody will be wearing masks, we will have signage all over the place,” said The Place Co-Owner Gary Knowles.

With tree stumps for seating and red round tables adorned with fresh flowers, this popular summer destination in Guilford offers seafood, steak and corn on the cob, all fresh from the fire pit. The aroma from the wood-burning grill wafting across Rte. 1 is a sure sign of summer for locals, as well as the line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot.

But this year The Place will look somewhat different. At each table, there will be no flowers, no rustic napkin holders and fewer diners, which may be the greatest change as its known for accommodating large gatherings per table.

“We are using all of our tables, but we can’t do more than four at a table,” said Knowles. “Our groups will be small and that’s going to affect the bottom line for everybody, but that’s just the way it is.”

“We will be open for business and we’ll be learning, like everybody else,” he said.

They plan to close part of their parking lot on the weekends in order to properly space out the tables.

However, The Place may be in a better position than some restaurants, since it is able to expand its footprint to offer 9 feet between each of their 50 tables. And, the establishment has always operated as an outdoor-only seasonal eatery.

“We’re in a very good position to handle several hundred people,” he added.

Dennis Johnson, health director in Guilford, is keeping in close contact with all the local restaurants opening for outdoor dining and is confident that it will be successful.

“I think the plans we have in place are realistic for outdoor dining to commence and still provide a safe environment for both the employees and the guests,” he said.

“I’ve reviewed the plans, quite thoroughly, and gone over them with some of the restaurant owners,” he added. “I think they’re realistic and feasible to enact.”

Bill’s Seafood, along with all the other popular Shoreline outdoor dining establishments, is happy to welcome back customers.

“We’re excited to be getting back to serving our people,” Leopoldino said. “We miss them all.”

That sentiment is shared by Knowles.

“It’s exciting for everybody because people need money, people are tired of being cooped up,” he said. “But, they want to be open with a sense of safety and security.”

Connecticut Media Group