Hingham restaurant owners hope to offer outdoor dining soon; still waiting for state guidelines

Photo by Joshua Ross Photography

June 3, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

Outdoor dining may soon be available at Hingham restaurants -- perfect timing with the arrival of warm weather.

However, while Hingham restaurant owners are eager to reopen, it's not easy to make plans when the details are unclear or not yet available.

Even though Town Administrator Tom Mayo said that restaurants may be able to offer outdoor dining as early as next Monday, that doesn't give them much time to prepare. That date is not definite, however.

·On June 1, Gov. Charlie Baker issued COVID-19 Order No. 35, which allows for preparation by certain businesses for Phase II reopening.  "Included in the Order for Phase II preparation is outdoor restaurant dining service," Mayo said.

The Square Cafe and some Derby Street Shops and Hingham Shipyard restaurants have already expressed an interest in offering outdoor dining.

"The governor’s order authorizes the town to approve expanded outdoor table service at restaurants, subject to state and local public health and safety restrictions," Mayo said.

The order relaxes both liquor license and zoning regulations and gives authority to the board of selectmen (as the local licensing authority) to approve expanded outdoor table service areas.  Prior to granting such approval, the selectmen are required to establish the process for approving such requests.

A Restaurant Reopening Working Group consisting of town staff -- selectmen's office and health, building, land use & development, police, and fire departments -- and town counsel was formed to  recommend the approval process for the board’s review and adoption as required by the order; to create a uniform and efficient application process; and to make recommendations to the selectmen in connection with such applications.

Selectmen Chairman Karen Johnson -- during the board's teleconference meeting Tuesday night --encouraged the working group to come up with "creative solutions to help Hingham restaurants" reopen successfully, especially the ones in downtown Hingham that are working within a small footprint.

"The goal of the working group is to facilitate the reopening of Hingham restaurants in accordance with the Governor’s reopening plan, in a manner that is consistent with the health and safety of the public -- including social distancing, fire code, and safety in areas such as sidewalks and parking locations," Mayo said.

A separate email address will be shared with all Hingham restaurants for submission of applications and questions.

Real Estate Town Counsel Susan Murphy told the selectmen that developing a recommended process is on a fast track. "We're working on it 24/7," she said.

The working group's recommendation will be provided to the Selectmen for review as soon as possible. A preliminary communication will be sent to all restaurant owners by the end of this week to explain the process the group is working through.

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