As Phase 2 kicked off on June 8 with outdoor dining, the North End embraced Boston’s new al fresco lifestyle with vigor. By June 11, tables and chairs filled parking spots along Hanover Street, diners ate pizza under the sun, and the neighborhood got a glimpse of its old, pre-coronavirus self.
Perhaps a little too much like its old self.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Boston Licensing Board held a mandatory, emergency virtual meeting for all North End businesses in possession of food and/or alcohol licenses to discuss numerous complaints received by the Board and the city’s Inspectional Services Department. The complaints included a failure to follow social distancing and operational guidelines mandated by the state, failure to follow the terms and conditions of approved temporary extensions onto outdoor spaces, and failure to follow ordinances related to tobacco use and allowing animals within restaurants, including outdoor patios.
The Licensing Board’s executive secretary Lesley Delaney Hawkins kicked off with a roll call, requesting that a representative of each licensee affirmed that they were in the meeting. Any licensee who failed to attend Wednesday’s mandatory meeting would be subject to the revocation of their outdoor temporary extension, as well as other potential disciplinary action.
Here are four takeaways from the meeting:
1. The Licensing Board has received over 50 documented complaints.
Delaney Hawkins shared that, in addition to phone calls and e-mails, the board has received over 50 documented complaints ranging from excessive noise and animals on the patio to a restaurant’s outdoor space extending outside of its allotment. She stressed that all licensees needed to follow the rules and regulations that they agreed to on their outdoor dining approval form.
“For as many complaints as the board and other city departments have received, we’ve also received a tremendous amount of positive feedback,” she said. “We understand the vast majority of licensees in the North End and throughout the city are good operators and are simply trying to do the right thing and get their businesses back up and operating. However, we will not look the other way for any violations.”
Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of the Licensing Board, said that the outdoor dining program was structured in a way to act quickly — but that it also allows the board to rescind the extensions due to public and safety concerns.
2. Starting Wednesday, restaurants in the North End will be subject to random inspections.
“I strongly suggest that if [your restaurant’s] outdoor space does not match your approval, remove your stuff today,” Joyce said. “If your approval does not match what you are using for outdoor dining, you are in violation.”
On Wednesday, the board’s licensing premise unit and inspectional services will begin conducting random inspections throughout the North End. Upon inspection, restaurant owners will be asked to show their outdoor dining approval. If they are not occupying the correct space or are not following any of the rules — including tables spaced six feet apart — the outdoor space will be immediately shut down, guests will be asked to leave, and the approval for the outdoor extension will be revoked.
“We are not waiting for people to pay their bills,” Joyce said. “They will be asked to leave right away.”
Joyce said that following an inspection of the outdoor area, a complete inspection of the inside seating area will be conducted. If there are any violations, licensees will be written up and will face a disciplinary hearing before the board.
3. Outdoor entertainment is not allowed.
During the meeting, Delaney Hawkins confirmed that outdoor entertainment is not allowed.
“You cannot play background music on these outdoor areas,” Lesley said. “Additionally, you will not turn up the music in your licensed premise so that it emanates on to these outdoor areas.”
A 311 complaint indicates that some restaurants have not followed this rule.
“Almost 10pm and they are pumping music into the street on a Monday night,” the complaint said. “This is absurd! People live here and have to work for a living. They don’t have anyone at their restaurant! Where is the noise enforcement and the accountability for these restaurants?”
4. Dining hours will be reinforced, as will the use of couches.
On weekdays, restaurants must stop serving at 10 p.m., and all patrons need to be off the patio by 10:30 p.m. — no exceptions allowed, Joyce affirmed. On weekends, service stops at 11 p.m. and guests need to leave by 11:30 p.m.
She also stressed that patios cannot allow seating beyond tables and chairs, and that couches are explicitly forbidden to prevent groups from gathering. When one restaurant owner asked if the board was willing to reconsider the use of couches, provided that they implement time restrictions on that specific type of seating, Joyce said the board would be willing to reconsider it after running it by public health experts.
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