Special permits for outdoor dining will return this summer

  • Cities in New Hampshire, including Nashua (pictured) and Concord, expanded outdoor dining last year amid the pandemic. They are planning to allow special permits again this year. Courtesy

  • Cheers owner Todd Roy puts up lights into one of the four igloos he and his wife and co-owner, Wendy, are erecting so diners can eat outdoors on the restaurant patio on Jan. 11. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 2/20/2021 7:37:01 PM

Outdoor dining on sidewalks and streets will return to Concord this spring in a continued effort to help restaurants cope with the pandemic.

The City Council this week approved a decision to restart extended outdoor dining as of April 1, running through Nov. 15. It allows special permits so that downtown restaurants can “use areas of the public sidewalk, squares, and parking spaces in front of their businesses to accommodate customers’ tables and chairs.”

Last year, 27 restaurants took advantage of a similar program created quickly by Concord as COVID-19 curtailed indoor dining. The system was approved in mid-May and by the end of the summer downtown saw arrangements as small as a few tables on the sidewalk to the elaborate construction of Revival Kitchen and Bar, which built a wooden ramp to occupy two street parking spots. The ramp was necessary to compensate for the slope of Depot Street; without it, plates and glasses would have slid off the tables onto the ground.

Many cities took a similar route, often taking advantage of the pandemic’s lighter downtown traffic to use Jersey barriers and turn parking spaces into dining areas. Like Concord, many are continuing the situation as soon as weather permits. Manchester City Council, for example, voted Tuesday to restart that city’s program beginning in mid-March.

“I believe the expanded outdoor dining was very helpful to restaurants and the impact on available parking was not overly burdensome, because traffic flow was less than normal due to COVID,” said Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber certainly supports this.”

The expansion is different from outdoor dining by restaurants that had their own outdoor space such as deck or private parking lots. Many have built or bought units to keep diners warm during the winter, such as the geodesic domes installed by Cheers.

Last year Concord’s outdoor dining program, like many responses to the pandemic shutdown, was created in a bit of a scramble. This year there’s time for more planning.

“We’re putting a little bit more emphasis on safety, and making sure that things are set up and ready to go, making sure pedestrian walkways are clear, making sure there are safe buffers around doors,” said Gwen Williams, the city’s health and licensing administrator.

Expanded outdoor dining often becomes part of the discussion as to how to shape cities and downtown areas, particularly since COVID-19 is making it hard for many small independent businesses to stay open. Opening more streets and parking lots to people rather than just cars and trucks is one move touted by many urban planners as a necessary adjustment, although it raises concerns that it will restrict access.

Restaurants interested in participating should apply for an expanded outdoor dining permit through the Code Administration Office website. Earlier this week Revival Kitchen and Bar, which suffered a flood just before Christmas from a bust pipe, shared a photo on its social media account of a filled out application for outdoor dining.

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