Selectmen to discuss expanded outdoor seating for restaurants

Meeting Thursday night to discuss streamlined permitting process

Selectmen tonight will discuss possible new policies designed to make it easier for local restaurants to open outdoor seating areas and start to recover financially. 

The board will meet remotely Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m. 

Restaurants have been limited to take-out business only since mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading, shutting down wide swaths of the state’s economy. Under Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening, restaurants would still have to keep their interior seating areas closed, but could start serving via outdoor seating areas.

Under normal circumstances, however, restaurants are required by law to appear before multiple municipal and state boards to receive the licensing and permitting needed to serve patrons outdoors. These public hearings, which evaluate a host of considerations such as sanitation, public safety, lighting, noise, and parking, can take months to schedule and finalize.  

Recognizing the time crunch many restaurants are facing to resume revenue-generating operations, the Legislature is finalizing a bill that would streamline the steps restaurants need to open outdoor seating. 

One possible strategy under consideration would temporarily consolidate the licensing and permitting process for restaurants looking to start serving outdoors under Acting Town Manager Scott Lambiase. Restaurants would have to provide a seating plan, including the location of tables, and provide proof of access and insurance in order to apply. Some of the rules could include no live or outdoor music unless the restaurant already has an entertainment license, and allowing restaurants to use overhead coverings or umbrellas, so long as at least 50 percent of the perimeter remains unobstructed. 

The expedited permitting process would not necessarily allow restaurants to serve beer, wine, or liquor in any expanded outdoor seating area. Liquor licensing is ultimately controlled by the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and it has yet to be determined how that agency will handle applications for expanded outdoor serving. 

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