Brookline To Pilot Outdoor Dining Through Winter

·4 min read

BROOKLINE, MA — While other communities have asked restaurants to pack up the outdoor heaters and tents and tables in parking spaces, Brookline extended its outdoor seating for restaurants through March, in an effort to help keep business going amid the pandemic.

"The town has been very generous giving us this extension," said George Johnston owner of Hamilton Restaurant & Bar in Coolidge Corner.

But, he said, he's not sure it's going to help if the winter stays as cold as it was this past weekend.

The town's pilot program allows restaurants to provide outdoor seating to customers through the winter, will provide them with jersey barriers to keep them separate from traffic as long as the restaurant moves the furniture during bad weather.

On a recent December Sunday, it hit 60 degrees in Brookline and Hamilton Restaurant saw an uptick in customers.

"If you get the odd day with good weather you'll get people outside and that will help," said Johnston. "But it's gonna be tough for the next couple of months."

He said he's tried featuring a winter menu with hot drinks — everything from a hot chocolate Manhattan, to a hot toddy or apple cider to entice customers to come warm up with a hot beverage. But, the outdoor seating that helped during the summer hasn't attracted a fraction of the customers this winter.

"We're not doing business out there. The weather is too cold to be doing business outside even with the heaters. And people are still too scared to go inside," he said, despite the safety protocols and sanitization.

And it's not just Hamilton that is struggling.

"Everyone is really hurting. A lot of places are going into hibernation, or closing," he said. "We'll see what happens. But people are very afraid."

Johnston said he, like many other Brookline restaurants, was unprepared for the pandemic when it hit. He had to lay off nearly half of his employees, pivot to take-out only, create a special take-out window and then when restaurants were permitted to allow indoor dining, he brought in an air filtration unit and Ultraviolet lights to help purify the indoor air. He also built special seating behind the building as well as overflow space out front during the summer.

The extension for the outdoor seating is nice, he said. But there are still many elements working against restaurants.

The real killer for his business he said, is the governor's curfew. Having last call at 9:30 p.m. so that the restaurant is closed by 10 p.m. has slashed a business where a good chunk of people show up at 8 p.m. to watch a sports event or grab a drink and dinner.

"People don't want to go out to watch half the game and have food and a drink and then get rushed out, so they're like: 'what's the point in going out'," Johnston said, adding that based on the take out orders people are just choosing to go watch the game at a friend's house rather than his restaurant where he sanitizes and has COVID-19 protocols in place specifically to keep people safe.

"It's really, really hard," he said. "If I keep on having weeks that I have had in the past three weeks, I'm not going to be able to go on. It's really sad, but it's the truth."

Another loan or grant from the government might help another month and a half, he estimated.

The other issue making it difficult for restaurants like his, he said, is that businesses like Uber Eats and Door Dash are cutting heavily into mom-and-pop restaurant profits.

"They charge the restaurants 30 percent, so our profit isn't even 15 percent," he said. "That's another thing that's killing us. I don't think the average person knows that. If customers went directly to the restaurant they'd help keep the restaurant alive longer."

He said Brookline should consider putting restrictions or a cap on delivery services.

Read more: Brookline Winter Outdoor Dining Pilot Program Launched

Jenna Fisher is a news reporter for Patch. Got a tip? She can be reached at Jenna.Fisher@patch.com or by calling 617-942-0474. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@ReporterJenna). Have a something you'd like posted on the Patch? Here's how.

This article originally appeared on the Brookline Patch

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