Mayor Wu Announces Citywide Permanent Outdoor Dining Program

Special to the Sun

Mayor Michelle Wu announced the City of Boston’s Permanent Outdoor Dining Program, in coordination with the Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion (OEOI), the Streets Cabinet, and the Disabilities Commission. The permanent program creates a predictable, streamlined process for business owners that will expedite application review and allow for annual renewals. It incorporates the activation of public space enjoyed during the temporary program, but addresses issues such as barriers to accessibility and concerns from public safety officials. The application to participate in the permanent program will be made available later this month with the goal of restaurant patios opening as early as May 1. The new program will include a monthly fee for all participants to help fund efforts to further expand outdoor dining more equitably across the City.

“Outdoor dining expanded as a way to keep our businesses open during the pandemic, and has turned into a popular opportunity to enjoy our streets and each other’s company,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “The Permanent Outdoor Dining Program is a multi-departmental collaboration to reimagine our public space for the benefit of residents, business owners, and visitors. We’ve taken what we learned over the last couple years to inform the permanent program, and we’re committed to working with our neighborhoods to make this program a success.”

“The outdoor dining program served as a lifeline to many small businesses in the City to ensure that they could keep their doors open throughout the pandemic,” said Segun Idowu, Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion. “With the success of the program, I am excited for the program to continue to operate and to keep our neighborhoods vibrant moving forward.” 

Business owners will be able to apply via an online portal which will be open starting on February 23, 2023. Through this portal, businesses will be able to submit their applications, track application progress, and renew the Outdoor Dining Permit annually. The application to apply will be available here.

“We were so excited to hear about the return of outdoor dining. For us, as a small restaurant the pandemic forced us to get creative, and the outdoor dining program has been a critical component to our sustainability and recovery. We saw changes in consumer behavior when we were forced to rethink the way we use public spaces,” said Andy Fadous, co-owner of American Provisions & Gray’s Hall. “With our two businesses on East Broadway & I Street in South Boston, we were able to provide an outdoor space for the community in both the morning and evenings, open longer hours and employ more staff.” 

The permanent program requires businesses to submit professionally engineered site plans for outdoor dining setups on the street and sidewalk to ensure all patios meet the requirements of the state building code. The COVID-19 temporary program allowed for hand-drawn site plans and portable ramps under a temporary variance from the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB). The City has prepared multiple sample templates, which have been informed by the Disabilities Commission and approved by the MAAB for permanent use. The City has designated a staff member to help restaurant owners with technical assistance on engineering plans.

“With spring around the corner, we’re very excited for the return of the city’s outdoor dining program here in Allston,” said Alex Cornacchini, the Executive Director of Allston Village Main Streets. “The last few years have shown that our restaurants have benefited from the added seating capacity, residents have benefited from the safer seating options during COVID, and the whole neighborhood has benefited from the added vibrancy these pop up patios produce.” 

In 2020, the Outdoor Dining Pilot Program was created under temporary state legislation as a business relief response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to any of the temporary outdoor dining programs, fees were collected for the City’s Sidewalk Cafe Program, which predated the pandemic. 

Going forward, all approved businesses participating in outdoor dining will be required to pay $399 per month if they have a liquor license and $199 per month if they do not. Fees will go toward technical assistance for hiring architects to draft site plans, with the goal of expanding the program to businesses that would not otherwise be able to participate. 

The City will not be permitting on-street outdoor dining in the North End this year. Restaurants in the neighborhood with adequate sidewalk width will be eligible to apply for outdoor dining if their proposal complies with accessibility and licensing requirements. Restaurants with privately owned spaces seeking to have outdoor dining patios are encouraged to apply through the Inspectional Services Department. 

The scheduled closures of the Sumner Tunnel and continued congestion around the North Washington Street Bridge construction project are expected to put a greater strain on North End traffic this summer and make it harder for residents and first responders to navigate the area. With about 95 restaurants in just over a third of a square mile, the North End has the densest per capita number of restaurants in the state. This has brought unique challenges and quality of life issues expressed by residents over the course of the temporary programs, including increased traffic, sanitation issues, and accessibility problems for older residents and those with limited mobility. The City will be creating a task force to determine how these issues could be remedied in future iterations of the permanent program. This year, the City will buy back jersey barriers from North End restaurant owners and provide relief for costs related to storing these items. 

The City previously held two Citywide meetings to brief business owners and residents on the permanent program and collect feedback. City officials have heard from residents throughout the temporary program and used neighborhood concerns to inform the permanent program. Restaurants applying for the program are encouraged to actively involve residents, community members, and civic groups to discuss future plans for outdoor dining patios on any public space. Residents and community members can share their comments regarding restaurants applying to the program to the dedicated outdoor dining email address ([email protected]) before the business’s Boston Licensing Board hearing date. Residents and community members with feedback are also encouraged to attend the scheduled Boston Licensing Board hearing. 

The Permanent Outdoor Dining Program builds off of Mayor Wu’s commitment to reimagine how Boston streets work for residents and visitors and how reconfiguring public spaces can foster community. In January, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) announced findings from the Copley Connect pilot in summer of 2022. Following the success of the pilot, transportation planners with the BPDA and BTD intend to study permanent improvements to Dartmouth Street between the Boston Public Library and Copley Square Park that would improve the public realm between three of Boston’s most iconic civic spaces and formally unify Copley Square. Additionally, the Boston Transportation Department will be announcing more Open Streets events in the coming months following the success of last year’s events creating more than a mile of car-free space in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester. 

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