Outdoor Dining
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Recently, the Atlantic reported that restaurants failed to utilize proper ventilation practices to mitigate Covid-19 exposure. For larger franchises, this could be seen as a bit of an embarrassment. However, for small, family owned restaurants, an HVAC overhaul isn’t as financially feasible. Thankfully, creative restaurant owners learned to leverage outdoor dining.

City Roundup: New Changes in Outdoor Dining Regulations Are Afoot

During the first two years of the pandemic, the restaurant industry lost over 100,000 businesses. Now, further regulations threaten to shutter restaurants in major cities such as New York and San Francisco. Restaurants that have survived thus far may be met with visits from city officials, threats, or, if you operate in the North End of Boston, surprise fees.

Boston

Boston’s North End is a residential neighborhood full of shops, historic sites, and winding cobblestone streets. Historically known as an immigrant hot spot, the neighborhood touts Little Italy and is full of family run, independently owned restaurants that are rich with tradition.

Boston's North End. Outdoor Dining.
Boston’s North End: A great place for history buffs and Italian food.

Recently, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu surprised the North End restaurant community with new regulations:

  • Any restaurant in the North End that wishes to participate in outdoor dining this year is required to pay a fee of $7,500.
  • While other neighborhoods can offer outdoor dining beginning on April 1st, North End restaurants must wait an additional month.
  • Additionally, North End restaurants are required to pay $450-$500 per month for parking spots converted into outdoor seating.

Mayor Wu said the decision was based on the North End having the densest concentration of restaurants in the state and the alleged increase of rodents and trash found on the street due to outdoor dining. At present, restaurant owners in the North End are fighting back by joining together for a possible lawsuit against the city.

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New York

Over in the Big Apple, both restaurant owners and citizens are calling for a regulated approach to outdoor dining, particularly, outdoor structures. NYC restaurants that survived the pandemic thus far was largely due to the emergency outdoor structures that popped up all over the city including plywood shacks, sheds, shipping containers, igloos, and heated cabanas.   

Bubbles line the street outside of Cafe du Soleil in Manhattan.
Bubbles line the street outside of Cafe du Soleil in Manhattan.

Accordingly, NYC officials are taking their cue from cities with successful outdoor dining programs such as Paris with its beloved tradition of sidewalk cafes. The goal is to work out a new regulation system that will make outdoor dining a permanent fixture in NYC, while lessening the impact on the city including additional rats and trash.

San Francisco  

To help keep their businesses running during the pandemic, restaurant owners in San Francisco built parklets outdoors. Parklets are wooden platforms placed in parking spaces to convert them into public seating. Despite the beautiful California weather, sidewalk café culture has never been a mainstay of San Francisco and residents are enjoying the change.

Similar to New York, the city of San Francisco is citing issues with outdoor structures that were built for safe restaurant seating. For the past two years, the City of San Francisco relaxed their rules regarding outdoor dining structures and converting parking spaces into seats. Now, a jumbled cacophony of red tape has started making an appearance.

San Francisco residents and visitors enjoying themselves on a parklet.
San Francisco residents and visitors enjoying themselves on a parklet.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, there is a disconnect between Mayor London Breed, city inspectors, and restaurant owners. While the mayor is promising no one will be hit with parklet fines yet, city inspectors have been threatening restaurants with $500/day tickets. Current permits are set to expire in June.

Officially, permits have been extended into 2023, however this year there’s a lot of fine print including application deadlines, some that have already passed, neighbor consent, a site plan, and public noticing requirements. Add the frustration of having paid thousands of dollars for these parklets, and you have some justifiably confused restaurant owners as the city continues to work out the details.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Since poor ventilation turned restaurants into Covid-19 hot spots, outdoor dining helped many restaurants pull through during the past two years. And it will continue as a lifeline if/when a new Covid-19 variant hits. At the same time, challenges are popping up as major cities struggle to find solutions that work for both restaurants and the public spaces they occupy. Has your city enacted new rules for outdoor dining? Let us know in the comment section!

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