Is Outdoor Dining the Path to Reopening for Mass. Restaurants?

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From eating in the streets to turning parking lots into patios, as restaurant owners think about reopening, some are hoping to get the approval to expand their outdoor dining.

Kowloon in Saugus, Massachusetts, is currently open for takeout only, but the Wong family is already thinking about how the massive parking lot could be utilized.

"Our goal would be to have an outdoor area where people can drive their cars in and have their own picnic right beside their car," Bob Wong said. "There could also be some entertainment, like live music."

Kowloon's parking lot tiki bar was popular before the pandemic. Now, with social distancing, they said they are open to anything that makes customers feel more comfortable.

Any of their plans would need to be approved by the town, but with states like New Hampshire making it easier for restaurants to expand outside, they are not the only ones thinking outside the box. The owner of Steel and Rye in Milton is hoping to use his parking lot creatively, too.

"We would put a picnic table in every other parking spot. By doing that, we would gain nine feet of distancing between tables," owner Dan Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan said the selectboard in Milton is already on board, but there is still work to do to make it a reality. He is also hoping for more guidance from the state's reopening advisory board, but he said the outdoor expansion could be a lifeline, as they will likely have to limit capacity indoors.

"Closing wasn't the hard part. Reopening is going to be the real challenge for the restaurant industry," Kerrigan said.

As for restaurants that do not have the space to expand, Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard is considering what they call the European model. It would involve partially shutting down some streets for outdoor dining, similar to what Tampa, Florida, is already doing.

"It's feast or famine on the island," said Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty. "These restaurants only have a 12-week season as it is."

Hagerty said the only catch is that some restaurants would also have to agree to offer groceries to ease the burden on the island's supply chain. Like many, he is waiting for more guidance from the state's reopening advisory board.

"There's a lot that goes into it. There's notice to abutters, easements, insurance. It's complicated, but we're living in a complicated time right now, and we have to make something work," Hagerty said.

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