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Massachusetts Restaurants Could Begin to Reopen for Outdoor Dining as Soon as June 8

According to reopening guidelines the Baker-Polito administration announced on May 29, restaurants will soon be able to resume dine-in service, but only outside to start, with indoor dining coming later in phase two of the reopening plan

Overhead view of a restaurant patio. Dark blue Sam Adams-branded umbrellas stretch over a collection of four-top outdoor tables, spaced apart to help curb the spread of COVID-19 as restaurant service resumes.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, restaurant Paddy’s American Grille is among the many New England restaurants that have begun to reopen for outdoor dining in May. Restaurants are spacing tables apart, taking reservations, and adhering to other safety guidelines and suggestions to curb the spread of COVID-19 as they reopen for dine-in customers. Massachusetts restaurants could begin to follow suit in early June.
Paddy’s American Grille/Facebook

Phase two of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan for Massachusetts approaches, tentatively beginning on June 8 as long as local coronavirus data keeps trending in the right direction. This phase will include the reopening of restaurants for dine-in service; they’ve only been allowed to offer takeout and delivery since mid-March. (Bars that do not prepare food onsite won’t be able to open until phase three, which will begin at least three weeks after phase two.)

Restaurants won’t be back to normal when they reopen, though; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced highlights from a lengthy set of guidelines on May 29 that restaurants will have to follow until further notice. Restaurants will only be able to serve diners outdoors to start — which will only help about a quarter of the state’s restaurants — with restricted indoor dining coming later in phase two, with an exact date to be announced later. Each phase is meant to last at least three weeks, so indoor dining could potentially resume around mid-to-late June.

Here’s an overview of some of the key guidelines (a preview version of the full list is available on the official Massachusetts reopening website.) Note that no specific capacity caps have been announced, but distancing rules about table placement will essentially cap restaurants far below their usual capacities.

  • Outdoor dining, where possible, will be allowed at the start of phase two (tentatively June 8). (Boston, as well as some other Massachusetts cities and towns, are trying to find ways to make it easier for restaurants to add outdoor seating by streamlining the permitting process, pedestrianizing some areas, and implementing other strategies.)
  • Once indoor dining does resume later in phase two, restaurants that can will be encouraged to continue focusing on outdoor dining as much as possible.
  • Tables must be six feet apart and six feet away from high-traffic areas, like routes to the restrooms. The distance can be under six feet only if separated by non-porous barriers such as walls or plexiglass dividers that are at least six feet high.
  • Both employees and customers should maintain a six-foot distance from others as much as possible (not congregating in break rooms or near restrooms, for example), and restaurants should post signage, use distance markers, etc. to enforce this.
  • No more than six people can sit at a table together.
  • Customers cannot sit at bars, although restaurants can reconfigure their bar areas into standard dining areas as long as existing building and fire code regulations are followed, along with COVID-19 safety guidelines regarding spacing.
  • Along the same lines, customers cannot be served standing up (no bars, standing counters, etc.).
  • Masks are required for both staff and customers, although customers can remove theirs when seated at a table.
  • Condiments won’t be preset on tables and will instead by served upon request in single-serving containers. Likewise, utensils won’t be preset and must either be single-use or sanitized after each use, brought to the table rolled or otherwise packaged.
  • Menus must either be single-use, disposable paper; a display, such as a whiteboard or chalkboard; or electronic and viewed on customers’ own mobile devices.
  • Communal serving areas (such as unattended buffets, topping bars, and self-service stations) must remain closed for now.
  • Restaurant areas not directly related to food and beverage service — such as dance floors and pool tables — must remain closed for now.
  • Restaurants are encouraged to use technology to create an experience that is as contactless as possible (reservation systems, mobile ordering, mobile payment, etc.)
  • Restaurants are encouraged to increase indoor ventilation however possible (such as by opening doors and windows).
  • Restaurants should retain a phone number of someone in each party, whether for reservations or walk-in customers, for possible contact tracing.
  • If an employee, customer, or vendor of a restaurant tests positive or is presumed to be positive for COVID-19, the restaurant must immediately shut down for at least 24 hours, cleaning and disinfecting in accordance with CDC guidelines before reopening.

The full list of requirements and recommendations details a variety of safety and sanitization protocols as well.

Baker, Polito, and their team worked with a restaurant, accommodations, and tourism advisory board to put together the industry-specific guidelines for the hospitality industry. Restaurant representatives on the board included restaurateur Steve DiFillippo (Davio’s), restaurateur Ed Kane (Big Night Entertainment Group), and Bob Luz, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

Yet to be seen: whether some cities will implement stricter regulations on their own (and what those regulations may be). Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has hinted at a slow restaurant reopening timeline, noting that he believes some social distancing measures could be in place into 2021. In Somerville, Mayor Joseph Curtatone has already been taking a slower approach to reopening certain businesses than the state guidelines allow (and has implemented a stricter mask-wearing mandate) given Somerville’s particularly high population density.

Stay tuned for updates on reopening timelines for Massachusetts as a whole — including whether phase two will indeed start on June 8 — as well as updates on individual cities that end up imposing slower timelines.

COVID-19 Coverage on Eater [EBOS]