Boston extends coronavirus outdoor dining, aiding struggling restaurants

Turn up the heat lamps: Boston restaurants will be able to keep serving outdoor diners through Dec. 1.

Mayor Martin Walsh announced Tuesday he’s extending that al fresco “lifeline” to eateries still struggling for revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“My heart goes out to many of the owners of the restaurants and the staff there. In many ways you are the heart and soul of our local economy,” Walsh said in his COVID-19 update outside City Hall. “We’re going to continue to listen to you and provide whatever support and flexibility we can to help you recover.”

Restaurants will be able to continue using sidewalks and parking spots for outdoor seating through Dec. 1, rather than the city’s initial cutoff date of Oct. 31. The city has permitted more than 550 restaurants under the temporary outdoor dining program Walsh called a “lifeline for many restaurants at a time when indoor seating remains limited for health reasons.”

The city will also waive application fees for permits for outdoor propane heaters to help restaurants to keep serving patrons without the need for parkas.

BOSTON, MA: September 15, 2020: Diners eat outside on Union Street in Boston, Massachusetts.(Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/)

Doug Bacon, president of Red Paint Hospitality Group, said he plans to apply this week for permits to heat his extended patios at The Kenmore in Kenmore Square and at The Avenue and Hopewell Bar and Kitchen in Allston.

“I’m very happy that we’ll be able to use them,” Bacon said. “But, of course, we live in New England, so you know what that means — (Walsh) can say we can use them to March, but the reality is nobody’s going.”

The mayor sounded an optimistic note about the weather, even as he acknowledged the restaurant industry will be looking for Mother Nature’s mercy come winter.

“Obviously outdoor dining is weather-dependent here in New England, and at some point snow plows might get in the way,” Walsh said. “But I’ve gotten some reassurances from some meteorologists around the commonwealth that we’re going to have a mild fall and hopefully a mild winter.”

Restaurant owners say they’re grateful for the support from Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker, who said cities and towns at lower risk for COVID-19 could soon see restrictions limiting business relax. Nearly one in five Massachusetts restaurants have gone out of businesses as restrictions cut their capacity and sales.

“It’s critically important as these operators really are literally day to day,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, adding that his organization is working on group buying discounts for heaters, propane and tents.

“We do expect that many people are going to try to take advantage of it,” Luz said. “It’s a good thing.”

Frank Pellino, owner of Pellino’s and Casarecce Ristorante in the North End, believes “it’s going to be difficult to get people to come sit outside” in the cold.

But “we’re grateful for anything the city and the governor will do,” Pellino said. “We’re hoping the city will give us these extensions next year and on a yearly basis.”

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