Within the city of Boston, there is no current plan to shut down indoor dining again, despite rumors to the contrary, Mayor Marty Walsh said at a press conference today, November 25. In fact, this week’s COVID-19 data for the city is the best it’s looked in five weeks. If it takes a turn for the worse again, the restaurant conversation will certainly be back on the table, but for now, Walsh has “no intention” of implementing another shutdown.
In the next week or so, he plans to announce details on an outdoor dining program for the spring, he said, noting that the public outdoor dining program for Boston — restaurants that have been able to set up patios on public sidewalks and streets this year — ends December 1, but those who have patios on private property can keep outdoor dining going indefinitely.
At today’s press conference, Walsh also spoke of other measures the city is taking in order to help small businesses survive the pandemic, such as adding free two-hour parking in every commercial district on Saturdays through the end of the year. Several business relief funds are also still accepting applications; business owners should peruse the options here.
Walsh’s update follows a similar one from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who said on November 23 that he doesn’t see a need to tighten statewide rules on indoor dining at this time but supports the ability for communities to make their own decisions. Pittsfield, for example, suspended indoor dining earlier this month as a response to a surge in COVID-19 cases, and Cambridge’s city council met on November 23 to continue a discussion from the week prior regarding a possible suspension of indoor dining.
The Cambridge council ended up voting in favor of the policy order, which states that the city manager should confer with the Metro Mayor’s Association to make a plan for closing indoor dining (as well as gyms, casinos, and other “non-essential” indoor activities) “as soon as possible.” The order also requires that several city departments collaborate on a small business and restaurant relief program to assist the businesses that will be affected by the forthcoming shutdown.
As some communities tighten restrictions and worsening weather puts a damper on outdoor dining, the list of local restaurants going into “hibernation” for the winter continues to grow. Today, for example, chef Michael Serpa announced that in addition to Grand Tour, which he temporarily closed at the end of September, he’s also closing Select Oyster Bar and the brand new Atlántico for the winter.
Serpa and other restaurateurs have been advocating for the passage of the federal Restaurants Act, as well as action from local officials, to provide relief to restaurants. Even where restaurants are allowed to continue offering indoor dining, strict capacity limits and other rules mean that business is a fraction of what it would be in normal times.
Some local restaurants have begun rallying around a “Where’s the plan?” initiative, launched by the Big Night Entertainment Group, calling on Massachusetts legislators to provide a relief plan.