September 29 2020

Selectmen Extend Outdoor Dining to Benefit Burlington Restaurants

By: Rich Hosford

The Board of Selectmen approved an extension for outdoor dining to help businesses stay open as long as the weather will allow to make up for income lost by the shutdown. Typically outdoor dining ends on November 1. 


Economic Development Director Melisa Tintocalis said that under new guidelines from Gov. Charlie Baker, restaurants can maintain outdoor seating until 60 days after the end of the State of Emergency. She said no date for the end of the emergency has been set so this would likely mean restaurants could continue outdoor seating into next year. She added that the governor acted at the request of a coalition of communities looking to support their restaurant industries. 


Tintocalis said that the town’s Reopening Task Force, made up of representatives of multiple town departments including the Board of Health, is in favor of extending the outdoor dining. 


The obvious question is how long will people be able to comfortably dine outside. Much of this, of course, depends on the weather but there are some measures restaurants can take to extend the al fresco season. Tintocalis said that while the town has received any specific requests there are examples of restaurants in other places having larger outdoor heaters and tents. There is also a concept of clear igloo like structures people can dine in. 


There was the question of whether a four sided tent was better than just eating indoors but Tintocalis pointed out that since indoor seating is allowed this option would be more akin to adding additional floor space for diners. 


Members of the board said they were in favor of the town doing what it could to support businesses in these difficult times. 


“I’m in favor of doing whatever we can to help the restaurants as it gets colder,” Selectman Nick Priest said.  


“Whatever we can do as a town to help our businesses benefit I’m for that,” Selectman Bob Hogan added, agreeing that four-sided tents with heaters is just expanding the restaurants’ floor space so should be allowed. “Whatever we can do to help the restaurants keep going as long as they can, I’m all in favor of it.” 


There was one provision of Gov. Baker’s new order that raised some concern. Selectman Mike Runyan said that under the new rules, restaurants could seat up to 10 people at each table rather than six. He said he was not necessarily comfortable with that and wanted to ensure a vote to extend outdoor dining did not automatically mean they were voting to ensure all of the new regulations. 


“I have no problem extending our current rules for outdoor dining but are we also adopting the new rule?” he asked. “I’m reluctant to have 10 people at a table.”


Tintocalis said they could just vote on the outdoor dining and she would look into the 10-people-per-seat regulation. Town Administrator Paul Sagarino said Burlington had been following the governor’s guidance since the beginning of the pandemic but some communities have created their own regulations. He also said he would get more information for a future meeting.


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