Outdoor dining will resume in Boston on March 22, 10 days earlier than originally planned. Mayor Marty Walsh announced the news in a statement on Friday, March 12. That said, restaurants in the North End must wait until April 1.
“Outdoor dining was one of the bright spots last summer and fall, and we’ve seen the benefits it has had on our neighborhoods: supporting local businesses, a safe and enjoyable experience for restaurant patrons, and an added resource for Boston’s small businesses during this challenging time,” said Walsh. “I’m thrilled we are able to start this program even earlier, and I look forward to businesses and residents taking advantage of it.”
The initial plan from the city was to resume its outdoor dining program — which was wildly popular last year — on April 1, but Walsh said that the upcoming weather forecast prompted him to push the timing up.
In May 2020, the Boston Licensing Board unanimously approved an emergency measure that allowed any restaurant in the city to quickly and easily apply to add outdoor seating to the establishment. Under normal circumstances, restaurant operators must go through a lengthy approval process that includes public hearings as well as meetings with various neighborhood groups whenever they want to add outdoor seating setups to their business. The city’s outdoor dining program, which waives fees for all applicants, streamlines that process.
In addition to waiving fees, the city has focused on targeted outreach to business owners in underrepresented communities. Like last year, the city will restrict parking in certain neighborhoods, and pedestrianize select streets to make space for outdoor dining. Walsh said in a March 1 press briefing that the Boston Disabilities Commission was consulting with the city to ensure outdoor dining spaces are accessible to everyone.
In terms of the North End, the narrow, mostly one-way streets and sheer density of the neighborhood (both commercial and residential) make it a trickier proposition for the city to plan for, hence the 10 day wait.
“Given the number and density of restaurants and the impacts to residents, the final plan for outdoor dining in the North End will begin on April 1,” said Lesley Delaney Hawkins, Boston’s Licensing Board executive secretary.
North End restaurant operators were among the first to get a talking to from the licensing board last summer for noncompliance with the city’s outdoor dining rules (though they definitely weren’t the last). From Eater’s earlier reporting:
The outdoor dining experiment isn’t going exactly to plan, at least not in the North End, according to a hearing notice posted to the Licensing Board’s website. People aren’t social distancing, according to the notice; restaurants aren’t adhering to the terms and conditions of temporary patio extensions, advancing into spaces they are not authorized to use (as part of its pandemic relief efforts, the city expedited the process for bars and restaurants to create outdoor dining spaces — the North End received 65 such extensions, with five pending approval); people are bringing their pets to hang out on patios; and people are smoking tobacco on patios.
Boston’s 311 service reported a number of complaints as well. One complaint read, “I’m super concerned about the North End. These tables are not six feet apart. Masks are not consistently being worn. Is there no enforcement?” Another was concerned about noise coming from outdoor dining setups: “This is absurd! People live here and have to work for a living. They don’t have anyone at their restaurant! Where is the noise enforcement and the accountability for these restaurants?”
Boston’s outdoor dining program is one of the only good things to come out of the pandemic, so here’s to hoping things go more smoothly to start this year.
• Outdoor Dining Will Return to Boston on April 1 [EBOS]
• Ready to go Al Fresco? Outdoor Dining in Most Boston Areas to Begin Earlier Than Planned, on March 22 [BG]
• The Boston Licensing Board Is Making It Easier for Restaurants to Create Outdoor Dining Spaces [EBOS]
• Boston Initiative Seeks to Improve Accessibility at Restaurants [BG]
• North End Outdoor Dining to Begin April 1, Despite Earlier Start for Other Boston Restaurants [BG]
• Boston Licensing Board Reprimands North End Restaurants for Noncompliance With COVID-19 Outdoor Dining Rules [EBOS]
• Boston Licensing Board to Reprimand Beer Gardens for Non-Compliance With Social Distance Regulations [EBOS]