Fans of al fresco dining in Boston now have an extra month to enjoy a meal outdoors.
Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday that the city's temporary outdoor dining program - that first took effect in June 2020 to help boost business at restaurants struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic - has been extended to Dec. 31.
Outdoor dining on private patios and city streets had been set to expire on Dec. 1. More than 400 businesses are licensed to operate through the end of December.
The extension does not include restaurants on the narrow and crowded streets of Boston's North End, where outdoor dining ended on Oct. 31. The city chose to end al fresco dining in the North End earlier than other neighborhoods for a variety of reasons, including heavy traffic, parking issues and construction projects.
“Activating public spaces to expand outdoor dining helps bolster our local businesses during pandemic recovery and creates connected communities spaces for residents, visitors, and families," Wu said in a statement. "I’m excited to extend this program through our holiday season and look forward to supporting our small businesses as anchors for our neighborhoods. Expanding to winter outdoor dining will help our communities stay safe, healthy, and vibrant."
The city's restaurant pilot program started during the coronavirus pandemic and is now in its second year. Outdoor dining across the city is expected to return in the spring of 2022.
The city said its existing prohibition on tents and similar structures on public property, the prohibition on extension cords running across sidewalks and the requirement for appropriate permitting for propane heaters and fuel storage remain in effect. Snow removal regulations also still apply. Restaurants that received portable ramps from the Disabilities Commission can keep them until further notice.
At The Audobon in the Fenway area, owner Jay Bellao said he is taking his outdoor space down. He has a patio out back and while the street side space is popular, Bellao said it has taken a bit of a beating from the weather.
But on Newbury Street, rather than take the space down, the staff at La Neta is adding more heaters.
"We really love the patio and the people love it so we are very excited," Ella Laborin said.
In Southie, WordenHall has both sidewalk and street dining.
"We're going to keep the inner patio on the sidewalk until the end of the deadline on the 31st and we're just going to take down the parklet," Dillon Walsh said.
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All of the restaurant staff who spoke with NBC10 Boston on Wednesday said outdoor dining has made a huge difference.
Everyone we spoke with says outdoor dining has made a huge difference.
"I think it's been a lifeline for restaurants. Very, very necessary given the circumstances," Walsh said, "but after a certain temperature people just don't want to sit outside."
And weather isn't the only factor.
"The difference between this year and last year is vaccinations and our guests are a heck of a lot more comfortable coming inside the four walls of restaurants this winter than they were last winter," said Bob Luz with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
Most restaurant owners want to see the program come back in the spring, and Luz said lawmakers seem to be on board.