Mayor Marty Walsh announced Friday that the outdoor dining program in Boston will begin on Monday, March 22nd – 10 days earlier than originally planned based on the weather forecast. But the city’s north end will have to wait.
The Boston Licensing Board says alfresco dining cannot begin in the North End until April 1, citing “high density” for the delay.
With snowflakes falling outside of Sunday, temperatures soar at restaurants like Rabia’s Dolce Fumo on Salem Street, where people aren’t thrilled to lose an extra 10 days to other restaurants in town.
“You have the feeling of being knocked all the time. These are corner shops here, they are not big chains,” said Christian Silvestri. “There’s density everywhere, that’s a city, the city of Boston, density like? There are cars everywhere, parking garages everywhere.”
Outdoor dining, especially in the North End, was a huge hit when it launched last spring amid the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurants here tend to be smaller, and with COVID capacity constraints, 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. You save the hassle of cooking because you already have that smell in the house,” said Mason Lafferty.
However, the switch to al fresco dining also reduced parking and congestion on busy Hanover Street.
Paul D’Amore, owner of Massiminos Cucina, supports the city’s late start of food for the neighborhood.
“At the end of the day, I’m in no rush, I had already planned for April 1st,” said D’Amore. “Take it slow, make sure we get it right.”
But for others looking for the right recipe to keep things boiling, this feels like another hit.
“We were killed during this whole pandemic, and now if you think you could get a little head start, at least make some money, you will be hit again,” Silvestri said. “So it never ends.”
The city’s outdoor dining initiative was launched last year to help restaurants survive during the coronavirus pandemic.
Online applications for the program are now being accepted, Walsh said in a statement on Friday.
“Alfresco dining was one of the bright spots last summer and fall, and we’ve seen the benefits it had for our neighborhoods: supporting local businesses, a safe and enjoyable experience for diners, and an additional resource for Boston’s small businesses during these challenging time, “said Walsh. “I am thrilled that we can start this program sooner and I look forward to business and local residents alike benefiting from it.”
The remarks come when the city moves into a modified phase 3, step 2, on Monday.
The program is expected to run until December 1, 2021, weather permitting.
As part of the program, restaurants are allowed to have outdoor seating on public land, including parking lots and streets. The new program is expected to include some new twists based on business and community feedback, the mayor said.
According to the city, around 550 restaurants took part in the program last year. Restaurants that have participated in the 2020 Temporary Outdoor Dining Program and would like to do so again in 2021 must reapply.
The online application tool went into operation on December 20th. So far, 434 applications have been received, around half of which have already been approved. A list of approved restaurants can be found here.
City officials have made a number of changes from the 2020 program based on the feedback they have received from the public, including:
- Relocation of the application process to another online platform where companies can track the status of their applications in order to achieve more transparency
- Additional time built into the process so restaurants can source appropriate materials and plan operations that include an outdoor dining area
- Clear guide to al fresco dining on public and private properties available in both English and Spanish. Other languages are available upon request
- Consistent enforcement aiming to ensure licensees meet all requirements issued by the city to ensure that outdoor dining is safe and enjoyable
- Individual assistance for restaurant owners who need assistance and / or translation of the online application
Recognizing that each neighborhood has its own opportunities and challenges for alfresco dining, the city is also working to address the specific needs of restaurants, residents and visitors in each neighborhood.