Navigating through COVID-19: Tugboat Restaurant

Part 5 in a series on Boothbay region restaurants
Sat, 08/01/2020 - 7:30am

This is the fifth part in a series on how our local restaurants are navigating state regulations on health and safety concerning COVID-19. We are doing our best to be inclusive, but with so many restaurants, we may not be able to get to everyone.

However, we still want to hear your stories: How have regulations changed the way you do business? How has creative thinking made the best of your situation? Do you plan on making any permanent changes even when regulations ease? How can customers and the community help as you continue adapting to a new business model? To share your story, email:

Tugboat Restaurant is still seating just about as many guests on its new rooftop deck. General Manager Bonnie Stover said since it opened June 17, the restaurant has had about half the business of a normal year after averaging out the popular top deck with business in the dining area and the lower level. But that is to be expected given the pandemic, Stover said.

“We figured it wasn't quite busy enough to have all three levels all day – and everybody wants to be outside … It’s definitely not what it should be, but it's also better than I expected. We had very low expectations,” Stover said in an interview July 30.

The top deck and marina lounge and deck are open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; the main dining room, 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Plans began April 1 toward opening, and the opening date changed three times, said Stover. About when management decided how staff would open, the date and methods would change. First slated for take-out service only on the final opening date, everyone decided to just open completely about a week beforehand. “We said we're just going to jump in with both feet and do take-out, curbside and table service … We thought we could do it safely and keep some of our staff working. I'm really glad we did that because we were busy right from the very beginning.”

Stover said staffing was cut to about one third of normal, but the core crew, those who have been with Tugboat in previous years, have returned to work. As a result of the limitations, the menu is slightly smaller than last year. That, and better planning for orders, have cut quite a bit of overhead cost, said Stover.

“We had our very first group dinner last night. We've had lots of cancellations on groups, but we had 30 last night and it was our first group meal. It went well, we spaced everybody out and everyone had a great time.”

Stover said while most people want to sit outside in the sun and look out over the harbor, there have been some hot days when people preferred indoor seating. All the tables are spaced out, barstools have been removed and tables accommodate eight guests or fewer per state guidelines.

“It seems to be working for us and for customers … I'm thankful we've had a good stretch of weather because thinking about all these outside diners – if we weren't having some decent weather, it would be hard for the folks who really want to be outside … We're lucky here at Tugboat. We've got lots of outside space anyway. It's helped us for sure.”

Stover was not sure how long the restaurant and inn will be open this year. Normally open through December for Gardens Aglow and Boothbay Lights visitors, nothing is clear yet on how the fall months will play out.  “It's hard for everybody. We acknowledge that. It's hard for us. It's hot, people are working under conditions they've never worked in before. We're all adapting … We do what we can to make it work and enjoy what we can of the summer.”