Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday that starting next week, restaurants can seat up to 10 people at a table and serve food at their bar spaces, as the industry continues to operate on a restricted basis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baker made the announcement during a briefing following a tour of Mill City BBQ in Lowell.
The new rules on restaurant seating, he said, take effect Monday. The 10-person limit is up from the prior six-person cap, Baker noted. He also stressed that bar spaces will be available for food service “with the right distance measures in place.”
Baker said that while bars and nightclubs remain closed in Massachusetts, evidence from other states clearly shows restaurants can safely use bar seating for food service when physical-distancing measures are in place.
“What the governor has been saying — and he has insight into contact tracing — is that restaurants aren’t the problem,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. The virus is "spreading through parties and other social events.”
Baker warned that the virus “is still with us” and until there’s a medical breakthrough, such as a vaccine, officials must “do all we can to keep our restaurants and other businesses safe."
“We hope these updates will also help Main Street” eateries and businesses, Baker said.
Lou Saban, an attorney who represents restaurant industry workers, called the announcement “incredible news.”
“If this causes every restaurant in Boston to hire one bartender, just think about what that would do for the economy and the working class,” he said. “I think that when bars were taken away, people began to realize how important they are to our culture — sitting at one, working behind one, and the feeling of community they grant.”
Nino Trotta, who owns Libertine and Forcella in the North End, said he was hopeful that bar seating might make some sports fans go to a restaurant to watch a game instead of cozying up on the couch.
But those working on behalf of independent restaurants say that this latest loosening of restrictions is still not enough to keep restaurants afloat. None of these changes is going to be dramatic enough to solve the problem, said Tony Maws, a cofounder of the group Mass Restaurants United, which held a rally outside of the State House on Tuesday. “We need economic relief. We need real support in the form of real dollars.”
Baker was joined at the briefing by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who urged the public to shop and dine locally to support their communities.
“We must continue to shop local, buy local, dine local,” Polito said. “These places make up the fabric and the culture of what people love about their community.”
Baker, Polito, and others highlighted a grant program that supports nonprofits helping to improve downtown areas. Among the grant recipients, they said, is a Lowell group creating self-guided walking trails highlighting Black history and art in Lowell.
The trails, Polito said, will also promote local businesses such as Mill City BBQ.