It is difficult to find the right solution.Michelle Wu (D), the new Boston Mayor, seems intent on making it harder or impossible to run city restaurants. Many are still in trouble following Covid-19. Wu’s administration’s outrageous, unfair, and inexcusable outdoor-dining policies are drawing increasing criticism from city columnists and other residents.
The city’s pilot outdoor dining program, started two years ago under then-mayor Marty Walsh (D), was intended—like similar programs I’ve Discussed in New York City and elsewhere—to offer a lifeline to restaurants that have been teetering on the brink as they attempt to survive restrictions on indoor dining.
Boston.com reports that the Outdoor Dining Program will allow restaurants to submit applications to expand public spaces in order to offer outdoor seating. The program is expected to begin citywide by April 1. reportedThis week. The program was in effect for two years during the pandemic. It has proved popular in North End where large numbers have flocked to enjoy the outdoor dining opportunities.
This week is the Official government mandated startBecause of the limited outdoor dining season for most of Boston, North End residents may not offer outdoor dining until May 1. It seems unfair. Boston’s Little Italy neighbourhood, the North End, is a beloved neighborhood. Many delicious meals were part of my childhood in Boston’s North End. There are many great restaurants in the region that I will continue to visit on my next trip.
Wait! There’s more!
As outdoor dining season was approaching, Mayor Wu stepped in a few weeks back. AnnoucedNorth End restaurants will be required to pay $7,500 per month for outdoor seating as part of the pilot program. The same program applies to restaurants located in the rest of the city. Restaurants that are permitted to use city property as part of the permanent outdoor eating program must pay fees. But, those not participating in the pilot for three years by Walsh’s administration so that more restaurants can operate patios during the pandemic will be exempted from such fees. Boston Globe reportedThis week.
The city claims so many restaurants in the North End have taken advantage of outdoor dining under the pilot program—their customers clearly like it—that it’s resulted in increased Reported complaintsConcerning rats, noise, traffic, and parking problems
North End restaurateurs were outraged last week by sudden rise in expensive fees. letter of protestMayor Wu blasted the city for not treating them equally and threatened to sue it over excessive and unjust fees.
Wu responded in perhaps the most savage way to constituents’ concerns. Wu stated, “If critical mass of restaurant owner believe that this program cannot be implemented as it was proposed, then I will rescind North End Outdoor Dining before this season begins.” Submitted.
Wu was criticized for his perceived inconsiderateness.
A great deal ColumnThe following week is the GlobeJoan Vennochi of’s lamentated Wu “holding onto a misguided idea to impose an imposing a hefty tax only on North End restaurant owners who want to offer outside dining.” Vennochi notes that Wu is the cause of this conflict and concludes by saying, “Yikes!”
Later in the week, Wu backed down—slightly. WBUR (the Boston NPR affiliate) ReportsWu hosted a press conference in which he proposed a modified “compromise scheme” that would permit North End restaurants to pay the high fees in multiple installments. They could also pay a lower amount for limited use of their patios or apply for a “hardship waiver” to lower their fee. Other things. This fee applies to North End restaurants only, which North End restaurateurs find outrageous and unfair.
And they were right. At least, they tried.
“Restaurant owners who oppose Wu were barred from entering the press conference… outside the mayor’s office, prompting them to protest angrily in City Hall,” the crosstown Boston Herald reportedThis week’s update on what was very intentional exclusion. The HeraldWu also attacked Wu’s tactic as “not good looking” and evidently “designed to quell outrage and isolating critics”.
However A few supportWhile Wu is being criticized for her actions, her opponents are increasing. Wu’s battle with North End restaurateurs attracted much attention to recent problems with city’s outdoor dining programs. But there’s another. Boston Globe story, published at the end of the week, revealed many restaurateurs around the city—not just in the North End—think the program now stinks.
“Ahead to the 2021 outdoor dining seasons, [Andy Fadous of Gray’s Hall in South Boston]”I worked with a landscape designer to make an industrial-style patio, which can be taken apart every year,” said the Globe Reports. “But, now the barriers don’t comply with the new regulations.”
The “new requirements”, refers to: 23-page listing of recently modified outdoor-dining rules—some of which make obsolete the costly outdoor-dining setups that Gray’s Hall and many other Boston restaurants purchased and used over the last two years.
Fadous told them the GlobeHe was required by new regulations to purchase $5,000 worth of barriers as the existing ones were no longer permitted. Fadous claims that he will lose out on one month’s outdoor-dining revenue because the barrier won’t be delivered until the end of the month. According to other restaurateurs, outdoor seating is not worth it. Some also point out that bigger chains restaurants can absorb more of these city-imposed expenses. Wu’s strategy could mean that Boston loses many independent restaurants and become a hub for chains.
What makes Mayor Wu seem to treat outdoor dining as a threat to urban living? The city’s attitude is particularly galling because—in stark contrast to Mayor Wu—many city leaders around the country have actually embraced and encouraged outdoor dining.
New York City was governed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, (D), which I already mentioned. Seattle is one example.
“This is another meaningful step along the pathway to permanence I created last year after hearing from many small businesses about the success of café streets,” Dan Strauss, a Seattle City Councilor (D), was the sponsor of Seattle’s outdoor dining program. The vote passed 8 to 0. “We will continue to make these permits free until further notice. [city officials]Permanent guidelines should be established that are just-sized and can meet the demands of the city.
Fairness and equality in treatment Responsible government. It is important to have clear and current rules. That is what most Boston restaurant owners want. Instead, Mayor Wu is serving them up a heaping pile of my-way-or-the-highway policymaking. Who is it for?