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Nightly Curfew and Reduced Capacities Mandated for Boston Restaurants and Bars to Slow Coronavirus Spread

Businesses must cut their capacity in half and close at 11 p.m., except for takeout and delivery services. Plus, every establishment is now licensed to offer takeout.

Boston stock photo
Boston’s restaurants and bars will be reducing their capacity temporarily
ESB Professional/Shutterstock

UPDATE, 7 p.m.: Governor Charlie Baker has announced a statewide shutdown of all bars and restaurants from March 17 to April 17. Takeout and delivery will be allowed, but customers will not be able to dine in.


On March 15, Mayor Marty Walsh declared a public health emergency in the city of Boston, implementing new regulations for the city’s restaurants, bars, and any other business with a CV license (i.e., casual spots like coffee shops and pizzerias.) All businesses covered by the new regulations must reduce their capacity by 50 percent and must not allow any lines to form outside. The businesses must also abide by a closing time of 11 p.m. Violators of these regulations will be shut down for 30 days.

In his announcement, Walsh said that this week is “critical for flattening the curve,” calling on Bostonians for “social solidarity” and “shared sacrifice,” noting that “social distancing is not a vague, wishful strategy; it’s backed by facts and data.” There are currently 138 confirmed and presumptive novel coronavirus cases statewide (as of March 14), with 29 of those within the city of Boston.

The mandated closing time does not apply to delivery, takeout, and drive-through services, which can continue through their usual closing times. Plus, every establishment that serves food in the city of Boston, whether or not it is already licensed for takeout service, can now serve takeout through the duration of the crisis. Additionally, beer gardens that were set to open or reopen this spring will not do so until further notice. The new regulations will be added to Boston’s inspectional services website soon.

The new measures stop short of the total shutdown some residents and officials have been calling for. An online petition is circulating — currently at over 5,000 signatures — asking Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to declare a shutdown of Massachusetts restaurants, bars, and other non-essential businesses. In Cambridge, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui has expressed support for the idea.

Many local restaurants are taking it upon themselves to temporarily close their doors. Prior to the press conference, over 90 Boston-area restaurants had already announced voluntary, temporary closures — some for a day, some for a week or two, some indefinitely. That number includes the voluntary daylong shutdown of more than a dozen South Boston establishments that agreed to close for March 15, as well as the approximately 30 restaurants at Time Out Market Boston and Encore Boston Harbor, the former of which is closed indefinitely while the latter is closed for two weeks, starting on March 15.

The temporary mass shutdown in South Boston comes two days before St. Patrick’s Day in a neighborhood that typically goes above and beyond in celebrating the holiday. The historic South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled this year due to COVID-19, but would-be revelers were out in full force on Saturday, March 14, lining up outside of a number of South Boston bars in large numbers, flouting calls for social distancing. 14 of the neighborhood’s bars agreed to the Sunday pause “based on the number of patrons in the area on Saturday and health and safety concerns,” as Boston Licensing Board chairwoman Kathleen Joyce told the Globe.

Boston joins several other locations in the United States in decreasing capacities at restaurants and other businesses. Austin is capping events — and thus large restaurants — at 250 people. Similarly in San Francisco, events are capped at 100, and restaurants that serve between 100 and 500 diners can remain open as long as they cut occupancy in half, up to 100 patrons. New York City already has a half-capacity mandate in place, but an increasing number of government officials are calling for a complete shutdown of non-essential businesses, including restaurants, and Illinois is also considering a shutdown.

Outside of the United States, there are widespread shutdowns in Italy, France, and Spain.