Though there are still cold winter months on the horizon, the City of Boston is already looking forward to spring — and a brand new outdoor dining season.
On Thursday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh revealed details about the city’s 2021 Outdoor Dining Pilot Program, which will launch on April 1, or earlier if weather permits, and will end on Dec. 1, 2021. The program continues a number of services that it offered in 2020, including streamlining permitting procedures and enabling restaurants with narrow sidewalks to convert outdoor spaces into patios.
“This year we saw the benefits outdoor dining can have on our neighborhoods: vibrant streets, support for local businesses, a safe and enjoyable experience for restaurant goers, and, in many ways, a lifeline for our small businesses during this challenging time,” Walsh shared in a press release. “We have appreciated the feedback from restaurants and residents, and look forward to their continued input as we develop a outdoor dining plan for next year that balances public health, our restaurants, and our residents.”
A number of changes have been made to the 2021 application process. The city has launched a separate platform where restaurants can apply for and check the status of their application, and is giving restaurants a longer lead time to apply for an outdoor license. Guidance and regulations are also provided online in English and Spanish, with additional languages available upon request. In a press release, the city also stated that there will be “consistent enforcement that will focus on ensuring licensees adhere to all requirements issued by the City to ensure outdoor dining is safe and enjoyable” — a reflection of the many emergency Licensing Board hearings held during the 2020 outdoor dining season.
Applications for an outdoor dining license extension on both public and private property are currently open, with a deadline to apply by Jan. 18 to receive a decision by Feb. 19. Applications submitted after Jan. 18 will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and restaurants that were approved during the 2020 season will need to reapply. The City of Boston approved more than 550 requests in 2020.
The 2021 Outdoor Dining Pilot Program comes on the heels of Gov. Charlie Baker’s statewide rollback announced on Tuesday, which added new restrictions to restaurants, including a 90-minute time limit per table, mandatory mask wearing (except when eating or drinking), and a maximum of six patrons at each table. While some restaurateurs said the new regulations wouldn’t affect their business, others called it “a blow to struggling restaurants at a precarious moment” and said it encouraged “general anxiety in regards to indoor dining.”