Mission Hill restaurant owners await city guidance for reopening

Numerous restaurants line the busy main streets of Mission Hill and survive on the bustling foot traffic as summer descends upon Boston. 

As the state released its Phase II guidelines for restaurants to start reopening on May 29, owners of restaurants here are anxiously awaiting further instructions from the City of Boston on how they can safely reopen. 

Because Boston has been a COVID-19 hotspot, Mayor Martin Walsh has been cautious in applying the state’s phased reopening plans to the city. For example, during Phase I Walsh waited until June 1 to start allowing some offices and businesses to reopen at limited capacities.

According to administration staffers, Walsh is still ironing out how to safely implement any restaurant reopenings in places like Mission Hill and further guidelines should arrive by Friday. 

Walsh is trying to strike a balance between the need for restaurateurs to start earning a living again while avoiding a resurgence or ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 in Boston. 

According to reopening guidelines the Baker-Polito administration announced on May 29, restaurants will soon be able to resume dine-in service, but only outside to start, with indoor dining coming later in phase two of the reopening plan

However, Mission Hill restaurants are in a holding pattern until they get final guidance from the Walsh Administration at the end of the week.  

In preparing for restaurant reopenings Walsh and the Boston Licensing Board took steps to streamline existing processes for restaurants who wish to expand outdoor seating as part of the COVID-19 reopening process. These new processes make it easier for restaurants to take advantage of outdoor space in Boston when they are allowed to open.  

Over 270 businesses have already begun this process throughout all of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Temporary street closures with barriers and signs will also be explored as part of the outdoor seating work, and to create better green links to parks and open spaces.

“Public space and transportation will be key to a healthy reopening and an equitable recovery,” said Chris Osgood, the city’s Chief of Streets. “Right now, that includes making sure hospital staff and front line workers can get to work safely and affordably, and rethinking how Boston’s streets best serve our residents. These changes to Boston’s streets are in line with Boston’s transportation goals of safety, access, and reliability, and the City’s work to create a safe city for every resident.” 

The state guidelines for Phase II that are being reviewed by Walsh and city officials are:  

• Outdoor dining, where possible, will be allowed at the start of phase two (tentatively June 8). 

• Once indoor dining does resume later in phase two, restaurants that can will be encouraged to continue focusing on outdoor dining as much as possible.

• Tables must be six feet apart and six feet away from high-traffic areas, like routes to the restrooms. The distance can be under six feet only if separated by non-porous barriers such as walls or plexiglass dividers that are at least six feet high.

• Both employees and customers should maintain a six-foot distance from others as much as possible (not congregating in break rooms or near restrooms, for example), and restaurants should post signage, use distance markers, etc. to enforce this.

• No more than six people can sit at a table together.

• Customers cannot sit at bars, although restaurants can reconfigure their bar areas into standard dining areas as long as existing building and fire code regulations are followed, along with COVID-19 safety guidelines regarding spacing.

• Along the same lines, customers cannot be served standing up (no bars, standing counters, etc.).

• Masks are required for both staff and customers, although customers can remove theirs when seated at a table.

• Condiments won’t be preset on tables and will instead be served upon request in single-serving containers. Likewise, utensils won’t be preset and must either be single-use or sanitized after each use, brought to the table rolled or otherwise packaged.

• Menus must either be single-use, disposable paper; a display, such as a whiteboard or chalkboard; or electronic and viewed on customers’ own mobile devices.

• Communal serving areas (such as unattended buffets, topping bars, and self-service stations) must remain closed for now.

• Restaurant areas not directly related to food and beverage service — such as dance floors and pool tables — must remain closed for now.

• Restaurants are encouraged to use technology to create an experience that is as contactless as possible (reservation systems, mobile ordering, mobile payment, etc.)

• Restaurants are encouraged to increase indoor ventilation however possible (such as by opening doors and windows).

• Restaurants should retain a phone number of someone in each party, whether for reservations or walk-in customers, for possible contact tracing.

• If an employee, customer, or vendor of a restaurant tests positive or is presumed to be positive for COVID-19, the restaurant must immediately shut down for at least 24 hours, cleaning and disinfecting in accordance with CDC guidelines before reopening.

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