June 18, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
The Hingham community and beyond is looking forward to the reopening of long-closed local restaurants, especially with the arrival of summer.
While only temporary new or expanded outdoor seating is possible in the current phase of Gov. Charlie Baker's restaurant reopening plan, there couldn't be a better time of year or more beautiful weather for restaurant owners who wish to take that step.
Thursday night the Selectmen gave the go-ahead for the Square Cafe and the 99 Restaurant to temporarily offer a new outdoor dining experience, and for Burtons Grill and the Boathouse Bistro to expand their outdoor seating, through an expedited approval process that falls under state COVID-19 regulations.
Square Cafe manager Luke Draheim requested and was approved for six tables, or a maximum of 26 seats -- on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant plus "additional space offered by La Petite Maison for use of the public sidewalk in front of the shop," he said.
Senior Planner Emily Wentworth, who is part of the town's restaurant reopening working group, called it "a challenging application, but we've gone through a number of iterations and we're at a place where we can temporarily support this outdoor sidewalk seating in a way that is safe and supports the restaurant.
"This is something that will be great for the downtown area, and I hope we can look at this in a longer-term fashion [in the future]," she said. The Square Cafe will be required to enter into a license with the town for temporary use of the public sidewalk.
Jersey barriers will be set up at the corner by the restaurant entrance to enhance safety. "You can decorate these barriers with plants, paintings, or artwork," said working group member Glenn Olsson, to make them aesthetically pleasing.
Burtons Grill was approved for four additional outside tables -- an expansion of the tables that are already in use for outdoor patio dining.
The 99 Restaurant will offer outdoor dining at six tables on the mulched area to the right side of the restaurant when viewed from Rte. 3A.
The Boathouse Bistro will add 10 additional tables to the left and right of the restaurant entrance to supplement the patio seating already offered.
All four restaurants will be able to offer outdoor dining once they receive confirmation from the Town Clerk's office that the necessary paperwork has been filed -- as soon as tomorrow -- with required social distancing and other COVID-19 requirements that need to be met.
Hingham Downtown Association Executive Director Lynn Barclay was on the teleconference meeting call and expressed appreciation for the hard work of the restaurant reopening working group and all who are involved in the process. "I appreciate this collaborative effort to get us to where we are today," she said. "This will be a great addition to downtown Hingham and what it needs [at this time]. Everyone is thrilled that we will have al fresco dining downtown."
This expedited process allows restaurants that gain the necessary town approvals to reopen for outside dining only, after being closed for all but takeout/curbside pickup for the past few months. Another phase of Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan is expected to allow indoor dining in accordance with strict COVID-19 guidelines.
The Selectmen's approval included modifications to the restaurants' liquor licenses and approval to provide new or additional outside table service to allow food and liquor to be served. Such approvals expire Nov. 1.
Baker's recent COVID-19 order temporarily relaxes both liquor license and zoning regulations and gives authority to local boards of selectmen (as the local licensing authority) to approve outdoor table service areas.
For information about making reservations and for days and hours for outdoor dining, contact the individual restaurants.
Additional restaurants are expected to also submit outdoor dining applications.
"Our local restaurants are so important to Hingham," Selectmen Chair Karen Johnson said.