Mayor Michelle Wu and her administration launched a flurry of debate Thursday night with the announcement of a permanent plan to keep outdoor dining alive in Boston.
While the new regulations are uniform across most of the city, but they come with a major caveat for the North End, the dense Italian enclave whose borders contain nearly 100 restaurants.
Here’s what we know about where you can — and can’t — dine al fresco this summer:
Location of tables
All neighborhoods but the North End are permitted to seat diners on both public streets and sidewalks, so long as the setup complies with the city’s accessibility and licensing requirements. (Seating on the street itself must be protected by barriers.)
The North End will not get that same privilege, at least this year. Restaurants there are only allowed to put up tables on sidewalks with “adequate” width, which means either five or eight feet from the road, depending on how busy the area is. It is unclear how much of the narrow sidewalk space in the North End can meet this requirement.
Street dining in the North End will be a no-go, with that space to be used as it is year-round, for car traffic and parking.
Restaurants in every neighborhood will be able to apply for outdoor dining permits starting on February 23.
The application will require professionally engineered site plans for outdoor dining setups that meet state building code. Business owners can refer to sample templates the city will soon make available and rely on Kristen Shelley, the outdoor dining program manager, for help.
Keep in mind: This application process does not apply for restaurants looking to seat diners on private patio space. Those cases funnel through the Department of Inspectional Services and have different requirements.
In all neighborhoods, restaurants who qualify for outdoor dining in public space are subject to the same fees. They must pay $199 or $399 each month for the duration of the season, depending on whether they have a liquor license. (The outdoor dining season in 2023 will start on May 1 and likely run to November.)
In a statement, the city said the money will used to “fund efforts to further expand outdoor dining more equitably across the City.”
The newly-announced fees are less than what North End restaurants paid last year, when they were the only neighborhood subject to an additional charge. Businesses paid $7,500 over the course of five months, plus an additional $480 fee for each parking space they used for seating.
Considering that some North End restaurants may not be able to do outdoor dining under the new regulations, the city will buy back jersey barriers from owners and “provide relief” for the cost of storing them through the colder months.
It is not yet clear whether this will require an application or how much restaurateurs will be compensated.
Restaurants outside the North End will be able to use the same application portal through which they applied to renew their outdoor dining permit annually and erect tables on public space.
The rules for North End businesses will likely change again next year. The city is assembling a task force of officials, residents, and restaurateurs to create an outline for outdoor dining on public space that will then be in place for the 2024 season and beyond.