CONWAY — A majority of local restaurateurs interviewed Monday reacted favorably to Gov. Chris Sununu’s recent order to maintain a registry of contact information of guests for 21 days to help in future contact tracing for COVID-19 if needed.
The move comes at a time when the state is seeing an uptick in cases of COVID-19. Under the new directive, a customer at a table is required to provide a name and phone number to help with contacting them if a case of the virus is diagnosed among employees or fellow patrons. They are also required to provide date and time of arrival.
Among the local restaurateurs, at least one admitted all were not on board with the directive initially.
Wally Campbell, executive director of the Valley Originals, the group of 25 independently-owned local restaurants, said: "There was a little pushback from some of our members initially, including myself. Some felt it was an infringement on our rights of privacy."
But he said, "people finally realized we are pretty fortunate to have a governor who is listening to businesses and finding a way to make it right for the citizens of New Hampshire."
Now, he said, "I have been out talking to customers in establishments, and they tell me this is the norm everywhere else (in New England) so don’t worry about us."
He also said he distributed copies of the governor’s racing requirement to Valley Originals members.
Embracing the directive were Terry O’Brien of the Red Parka Steakhouse & Pub of Glen and Stu Dunlop of the Wildcat Inn and Tavern of Jackson. Both said they had started their own information campaigns prior to the governor’s announcement.
“I think it’s high time (Gov. Sununu) did this — we had actually started doing it last Wednesday before this came out (on Thursday),” said O’Brien, co-owner of the Red Parka. “We wanted to be pro-active if someone came into our restaurant and was contagious and all of a sudden our guests and staff were exposed in this way.”
She added: "In taking a reservation we are getting customers’ names and phone numbers, and if they are getting takeout, we are getting their credit card information, so I don't see what the big deal is.”
The Wildcat's Dunlop said his staff had initially started to trace that information with hotel guests at the Wildcat and the other inn he owns, the Kearsarge Inn in North Conway.
“We had been having conversations about how to best track that and how to best communicate that tracing information with our hotel guests,” said Dunlop.
However, Rob Peterson of Horsefeathers Restaurant of North Conway, said he feels his restaurant already does a good job through credit-card information without having to go an extra step.
“Over 80 percent of our customers pay with credit cards and 30 percent are frequent diners — how much information do we need to gather?" Peterson asked.
"We are already capable of tracing — we return wallets and cell-phones back to customers all the time by tracking them down on Facebook from their names without tracing … Who is Chris Sununu to say I have to collect information on the citizens of the state?" he continued.
"I am one of the few New Hampshire citizens who actually believes in Gen. John Stark’s words of ‘Live Free or Die.’ I am fundamentally opposed to this on several fronts.”
Sununu last week said the recommendation to implement the tracing came from the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, and he applauded their efforts to begin helping the state with data collection.
Mike Somers of NHLRA, who proposed the measure, said the industry is "extremely concerned" with media reports about bar and indoor closures due to COVID-19. He questioned whether people brought the virus into the facility rather than contracting it there.
Somers said the current approach to publicly announce and seek information from those who were at restaurants at specific times is like a “shotgun blast” in nature and not very searchable.