Restaurants can now get emergency approval to add outdoor seating, once they're allowed to re-open for diners

The Boston Licensing Board approved an emergency measure Thursday under which restaurants can put seating outside once the city lifts the ban on in-restaurant dining, to deal with new Covid-19 restrictions that will shrink their indoor seating capacity.

The board unanimously approved a pandemic-related regulation under which restaurants can apply for new outdoor seating once the city lifts the ban on in-restaurant dining. Unlike with other major seating modifications, the owners will not have to first meet with neighborhood groups and schedule a public hearing, a process which can often take weeks to arrange, but instead simply file an application that the board will act on at its regular weekly meetings.

"Restaurants have really been suffering" and the board will do whatever it can to help them during the pandemic, board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce said. She said she found that in addition to helping protect the health and safety of diners, the new measure, by giving restaurant owners a way to continue to make money will help protect "the livelihood of our neighborhoods."

The approvals for the new outdoor seating will last as long as the current public-health emergency, which Mayor Walsh has yet to give any indication will end anytime soon.

In a statement, Walsh added:

"The Board, Boston Transportation Department, Inspectional Services Department, Public Improvement Commission, and Public Works Department will waive fees for the approved use of outdoor space for this program, on both public and private property, on a temporary, non-precedent setting basis."

Walsh said 147 restaurants across the city have already expressed interest in expanding outdoors. He said the city is still working out the details of just how patio approval will work, but said it could vary from neighborhood to neighborhood: Hanover Street in the North End is not Washington Street in Roslindale.

As one possible example, he said that for a restaurant that wants to add seating but which is on a relatively narrow sidewalk, the city might carve a "parklet" out of the parking space or spaces out front to allow for tables and chairs. Roslindale Square has had one such seating area for several summers now on Cohasset Street, next to the Fornax bakery.

The board also voted to rescind a regulation that requires restaurants with alcohol licenses and patios to only serve alcohol outdoors to patrons who also order food. Joyce said that's a relic of past administrations that the current board has never enforced, and will also further help suffering restaurant owners.