Dust off those barstools. Starting Monday, dining out in Massachusetts will look a little different.
According to an announcement from Governor Charlie Baker last week, restaurants can start seating up to 10 people at a table, as well as utilize bar seating as the state continues to slowly reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to Monday’s new guidelines, indoor or outdoor dining was capped at six people per table, and bar seating was off-limits. The decision to relax seating rules follows several weeks of consistently low statewide COVID-19 levels, according to public health data.
Baker reiterated that standalone bars and nightclubs are still closed, and that there is “no standing around the bar."
“Bars are closed. Nightclubs are closed. But the evidence from other states with respect to this issue are clear. Restaurants can use bar seating for regular food service with appropriate distance in place,” Baker said.
Restaurants and breweries are still required to serve alcohol only if it is accompanied by food that was prepared on site. Tables must also still be spaced at least 6 feet apart or physically separated by a solid barrier.
The same distancing applies to bar seating, which is only allowed if there is either no staff working behind the bar or if the work area is separated by a barrier, such as plexiglass, that is at least 30 inches high (though there can be an 8-inch gap at the bottom to pass through food and drinks).
While the loosened seating regulations apply to most of the state, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Wednesday that the city would not relax the group limit, citing Boston’s general density. The cities of Worcester, Framingham, and Lawrence also opted out of relaxing the group limit of more than six people per table. Walsh said, however, that Boston will match the state in allowing customers to dine in bar areas.
The new guidelines also allow restaurants to use laminated reusable menus, as long as they are sanitized between each use. Similarly, reusable condiment containers — which were prohibited since May in favor of single-serve packages — can be used as long as they are only provided upon request and sanitized between each use.
Face coverings are still required at all times for restaurant workers as well as customers unless they are seated at their tables.
Many hope the relaxed rules will help Main Street eateries and businesses.
“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,” Lou Saban, an attorney who represents restaurant industry workers, told the Globe last week. “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.”
But some individuals working on behalf of independent restaurants say that this latest loosening of restrictions is still not enough to keep restaurants afloat.
Previous Globe coverage was used in this report.