Baramor looks a lot different now than when Arpit Patel opened the cozy Newton Centre gastropub in 2019.
After COVID-19 struck, he moved most of his business outdoors, where the city blocked off parking spaces to create a socially distanced patio. During winter, Patel served s’more waffles and thermoses of hot drinks. With summer nearly here and pandemic restrictions lifted, diners still gather beneath the stars over steak frites and pale ale.
There is no doubt in his mind that a city initiative to streamline permitting for outdoor dining has saved his business.
“Almost every guest is expecting the city to keep this going, and the most common feedback I get is, ‘I don’t know why we didn’t do this before,’” Patel said.
In Newton, Quincy, Framingham, and Salem, city officials said they see a future in letting restaurants serve their customers outside.
“It’s been a complete home run here,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. “For many of the restaurants, the outdoor dining was a real life-saver.”
Cities and towns helped restaurants survive the health crisis by greenlighting emergency outdoor dining measures to bring back much-needed business. In addition, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order last June allowing municipalities to permit outdoor alcohol service without review by the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
Citing progress against the coronavirus, Baker pushed up the state’s reopening from August to May 29, lifting indoor capacity restrictions for restaurants and most other pandemic health measures. A bill to create an expedited process for permitting outdoor dining and alcohol service in the future is pending.
Jay Spencer, owner of French Press Bakery & Cafe in Needham and chairman of the Newton-Needham Dining Collaborative, said Baker should look at how the state can help communities keep outdoor dining measures in place.
“It’s what people want, it’s what generates sales revenue for the restaurants, it generates tax revenue for the state, and they should take a hard look at what went well now,” Spencer said.
The collaborative represents more than 60 restaurants in Newton, Needham, and Wellesley, Spencer said. In Needham, outdoor seating permitted by the town for his Chapel Street bakery has allowed him to draw back more customers.
For his patrons, “it has just been a godsend,” Spencer said.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who rolled out the city’s outdoor dining program in May 2020, said in a statement that officials are working hard to make the successful program permanent.
This year, Newton has increased its on-street dining — including realigning all of Union Street in Newton Centre where Baramor is located — and created takeout dining areas in parks and parking lots. Those areas also are decorated with works produced by local artists.
“It’s helped our restaurants; it’s brought life to our streets and provided our residents with safe and fun outdoor dining options,” Fuller said. “It’s been one silver lining of this past year. We’re working hard to make it something permanent.”
In Salem, Angelica Chayes opened Odd Meter Coffee on Washington Street in January.
But due to pandemic capacity limits, the shop — which Chayes co-owns with her husband, Eric Moers — wasn’t initially able to serve customers indoors. So a nearby city parklet was valuable, she said.
The coffee shop shares the parklet with two other businesses, Melt Homemade Ice Cream and Boston Hot Dog Company, she said.
“As a brand-new business, we would not have been able to afford outdoor seating,” Chayes said. “So that’s a huge bonus for us, and it also creates a really nice space.”
Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, said the city’s rapid response to assist restaurants was crucial amid the pandemic. Going forward, those measures could help broaden the appeal for visitors strolling through the waterfront city.
“From a marketing and destination perspective, it certainly enhances the experience of being in Salem — to walk down the street, and see people sitting outside in beautiful weather enjoying their meals,” Fox said. “That’s a good thing.”
Driscoll said the city is working with its business community on outdoor restaurant measures, and looks to make investments to improve safety and accessibility of the dining space, she said. Officials also have an eye on improving the aesthetics of these areas.
“We have an internal team, [and] a designer we’re working with as well, helping to up our game a little bit, with respect to these things that are now going to be here long-term,” Driscoll said.
In Quincy and Framingham, local leaders said they are also looking at ways to maintain these options for restaurants.
In Quincy, Kerri Lynch-Delaney, owner of the 16C restaurant on Cottage Avenue, said she and her staff had to reinvent their business during the public health crisis, turning to takeout and outdoor dining after the pandemic hit.
Her city has made it straightforward for restaurants to open up outdoor dining spaces, she said, and closed Cottage Avenue to traffic in the evenings. This allows 16C to turn a part of the street into its dining room.
“I would love to keep the outdoor dining going, it is great,” she said, applauding the city’s efforts. “It makes a huge difference. When it’s a beautiful night out, people just want to be outside.”
Mayor Thomas Koch said officials in Quincy also are weighing potential impacts, such as parking and noise, and will address those issues as part of a long-term plan.
“I think the temporary measure will probably morph into something more permanent, with some tweaks,” Koch said. “Overall, it was very well received by the restaurants, and we didn’t get any complaints that I’m aware of from neighborhoods.”
In Framingham, Mayor Yvonne Spicer said it’s pivotal to help restaurants bring back customers after the public health crisis.
“I want to see more of it, I want to see it done nicely and make it look inviting ... and have it on a long-term basis,” Spicer said of outdoor dining. “I’m definitely in favor of doing that, and doing it as quickly as we possibly can.”
Bruno Trindade, a co-owner of the Brazilian steakhouse Framingham Station in the city’s downtown, praised Spicer and city officials for working with his restaurant during the pandemic.
He said restaurants like his help support the city’s local economy — and can help bring back a sense of daily life without fears of getting sick.
“This is the place where they can come, not only for a meal, but [to] get together,” Trindade said. “And they can feel that life is going back to normal.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.