Boston Streamlines Restaurants' Path to Outdoor Dining Ahead of Their Reopening

Under Gov. Charlie Baker's four-phased reopening plan, restaurants will be allowed to reopen, with restrictions, in phase 2

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In an effort to help restaurants get back on their feet, Boston has cleared several hurdles for restaurants that want to apply to serve food and alcohol outside once that's allowed in Massachusetts' reopening plan.

On Thursday, Boston's Licensing Board streamlined the process for restaurants to apply to serve food outside and allowed restaurants to serve alcohol to people outside even if they don't serve food. The board also voted to temporarily waive fees for the approved use of outdoor space on both public and private property.

The updated regulations would only apply during the pandemic.

"I want restaurants to know that we certainly feel your pain," Walsh said to restaurant owners.

Under Gov. Charlie Baker's four-phase reopening plan, restaurants will be allowed to reopen with restrictions in phase 2. That phase won't begin until at least three weeks after the success of phase 1, which begins May 25.

Walsh said the measures were taken after the licensing board issued a questionnaire for businesses on Monday in an effort to process and improve "temporary extensions" without hearings or multiple applications. He said, to date, 147 businesses have filled out the questionnaire.

"There is an interest in every neighborhood," Walsh said.

Instead of having a cookout, he asked people to deck out their homes in flags and other patriotic decorations to honor the country's veterans.

The mayor said there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but the city is working to make sure any expansion does not get in the way of public safety.

"Some people said, 'shut down Hanover Street.' That sounds like a great idea, in theory, it would be wonderful, but we have a fire station in the middle of Hanover Street," Walsh said.

North End restaurant owner Damien DiPaola said having outdoor seating could be a lifeline for his business since he knows capacity will be limited once restaurants are allowed to reopen. Outdoor dining would expand that capacity.

Mayor Marty Walsh says he expects Boston to be battling the pandemic for eight months to a year.

"It gives us hope. Because right now, we don’t have any hope," he said.

Walsh said the city was exploring options for opening up space outside for restaurants to put diners, including giving them parklets -- converted parking spaces -- or even entire lanes of streets.

What restaurants can do may vary depending on the neighborhood, as what works for one may not work for others, according to the mayor.

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