Restaurants in Boston's North End have to wait longer than the rest of the city to offer outdoor seating as spring fast approaches.
Boston's outdoor dining program will begin on Monday, March 22 -- 10 days earlier than had originally been planned due to the weather forecast, Mayor Marty Walsh announced Friday. But the city's North End has to wait until April 1, according to the Boston Licensing Board, which cited "high density" for the delay.
While some owners are concerned about losing out on several days of business, others were content with a more cautious approach.
"At the end of the day, I'm in no rush," said Paul D'Amore, owner of Massimino's Cucina. "In my head, I was already planning for April first. I wanted to take things slow, you know? Make sure that we do it right."
But at restaurants like Rabia's Dolce Fumo on Salem Street, people aren't thrilled about losing an extra 10 days to other restaurants in the city.
"We have been getting killed this whole pandemic, and now right when you think you can get a little head start, make some money at least, you get hit again," owner Christian Silvestri said. "So it is never-ending."
Of the 16,000 restaurants that were running pre-pandemic, 3,400 have not reopened, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
Outdoor dining, especially in the North End, was a huge hit when it launched last spring amid the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants there tend to be smaller in size, and with COVID capacity limits, the extra tables meant more business.
Those who live in the area seemed to love it, too.
"You move to the North End for that European feel, you open the windows and smell the Bolognese through your windows, saves you the effort of cooking because you already have that smell in the house," resident Mason Lafferty said.
The city's outdoor dining initiative started last year to help restaurants survive during the coronavirus pandemic. Online applications for the program are now being accepted, Walsh said in a statement Friday.
"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," Walsh said. "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 program is scheduled to run through Dec. 1, 2021, weather permitting.
Under the program, restaurants are given permission to place outdoor seating on public property, including parking spaces and streets. The new program is expected to include some new twists based on business and community feedback, the mayor has said.
About 550 restaurants participated in last year's program, according to the city. Restaurants that took part in the 2020 temporary outdoor dining program and wish to do so again in 2021 must reapply.
The online application tool went live on Dec. 20, and so far, 434 applications have been received and about half of them have already been approved. A list of restaurants that have been approved can be found here.
City officials have made a series of changes from the 2020 program, based on the feedback they received from the public, including:
- Moving the application process to another online platform where businesses can track the status of their applications for more transparency
- Additional time built into the process, so that restaurants can procure proper materials and plan for operations that will include an outdoor dining space
- Clear guidance for outdoor dining on public and private property that will be available in both English and Spanish, with other languages available upon request
- Consistent enforcement that will focus on ensuring licensees adhere to all requirements issued by the City to ensure outdoor dining is safe and enjoyable
- One-on-one assistance for restaurant owners who require support and/or translation of the online application
Recognizing that each neighborhood has its own opportunities and challenges for outdoor dining, the city said it is also working to address the specific needs of restaurants, residents, and visitors across neighborhoods.