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CONCORD, New Hampshire — New Hampshire restaurants were allowed to begin serving customers for outdoor dining on Monday, and Jim Tanner and Steve Duprey may have been the first to take advantage of it.
They were sitting outside The Works Cafe in Concord with their coffee by 6:02 a.m., two minutes after it opened.
For several years, they’ve been among a group of friends who meet at the cafe every weekday morning. Since the governor issued the stay-at-home order, Tanner and Duprey have altered the tradition — getting coffee to go and chatting outside for a few minutes, standing 10 feet apart.
“Today was nice because we saw the tables out and thought, ‘Hey, we can sit here and enjoy the nice weather,'” said Tanner, a retired IBM sales executive who has missed the morning gatherings.
“Folks kind of paraded in … it was a very nice way for many of us to start our day and get a lot of social contact with all facets of society,” he said.
Restaurants, which previously had been restricted to take-out and delivery, can now serve diners outside, with tables six feet apart. Staff who work directly with customers must wear masks, and customers are asked to wear them as well as they enter and exit the property, and if they go inside to use restrooms.
Sean Brown, chief operating officer for the Common Man family of restaurants, said many customers arrived for lunch without masks Monday, but the restaurants provided them. Most locations were moderately busy despite less-than-ideal weather, he said.
“We certainly were not overwhelmed, but the guests that were dining with us were appreciative, they were happy to see us and we were happy to see them,” he said. “I’m confident that the outdoor dining business will continue to grow as guests become more comfortable.”
Brown said staff were happy to get back to work.
“Everyone had a smile on their face today,” he said. “I’ve been telling everyone, even if you have a mask on, our customers can still see a big smile.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Monday approved rules for the immediate reopening of businesses that involve small groups in outdoor settings, including mini-golf, driving and shooting ranges, and bike, canoe and kayak rentals.
The rules also apply to paintball, small fishing charters and outdoor guide services for fishing, hunting and hiking, but Sununu said he is holding off on reopening larger, tourist attractions such as the Polar Caves, Lost River Gorge or the Flume, as well as amusement parks.
While Massachusetts beaches will begin opening on May 25 — Memorial Day — that won’t happen in New Hampshire. Sununu said he will monitor what happens in Massachusetts before making a decision.
“If we can get open by June 1, I think that’s a goal, but it’s not a promise by any means,” he said. In the meantime, residents should enjoy the holiday weekend close to home, he said.
“Given the nice weather and the holiday weekend that’s coming up, my recommendation is, enjoy some with your family, enjoy the home hike challenge — there’s still a lot of activities to be done outdoors even though our amusements and attractions aren’t open,” he said. “We’re not telling people they cannot come out of their door by any means, but you’re healthier at home, we’re still under a stay-at-home order.”
Separate rules were approved for the immediate reopening of child care centers with increased screening of children and staff, limits on capacity and staggered drop off and pick up schedules.