LACONIA — Alex Ray is trying to look on the bright side of a pandemic that has dropped revenue at his Common Man restaurants to just a fraction of what it was before anybody heard of COVID-19.

Even though it’s not helping his bottom line, families are eating at home together more than ever and are able to spend much more time with one another, he said. 

He pledged that the company he founded and owns will weather this storm.

“I will not give up,” he said in an interview. “We’re trying to protect ourselves with positiveness.

“It’s interesting. We might be a little skeletonized, but we’ll be back with a vengeance.”

The Common Man, which has 15 restaurants and several other businesses, employs 445 people as of its last payroll and had $50 million in revenue last year, spokeswoman Erica Auciello Murphy said.

Ray said business for February through April was about 16 percent of historic levels.

Like many New Hampshire companies, Common Man applied for a loan through the Payroll Protection Program of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Restaurants statewide were forced to transition to takeout service only in March under emergency orders that closed dining rooms. Outdoor dining was allowed to open on May 18 under a set of restrictions designed to maximize social distancing, hygiene and sanitation to protect employees and customers.

Many staff members are required to wear face coverings. The rules say customers should be asked to wear a cloth face covering when entering and exiting to protect other patrons and employees, or when getting up to use the restroom. Menus are single-use or must be cleaned repeatedly.

It’s been a learning process for staff and customers, Ray said.

“I think the restrictions are appropriate,” he said. “There are fears that this thing might not go away.”

Ray said the next step might be to eventually allow restaurants to offer indoor dining with limited capacity. Outdoor seating has been good, but there are impediments.

“It can be hot, cold, rainy, windy or there are mosquitoes,” Ray said.

Even when all COVID-19 related restrictions are lifted, consumers may hesitate to dine out.

“The doors are not going to be banged down after this is over,” he said.

On the whole, however, he feels good about his customers and his staff.

“I am proud people are wearing masks. They are doing the best they can.

“We’re feeling the pain, but we’ve done everything together with our staff in trying to be positive, respectful and understanding.”

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