Cumberland considers how to handle outdoor seating

Cumberland considers how to handle outdoor seating

CUMBERLAND – With 100 percent capacity expected in Rhode Island restaurants and bars as of May 28, Cumberland’s executive order allowing owners to have temporary outdoor seating equal to what they’re missing inside will be rendered defunct.

Members of the Town Council’s ordinance subcommittee will now discuss how best to move forward on addressing the situation, even as many restaurant owners have indicated a desire to continue on with the outdoor seating they’ve been allowed as a group during the pandemic.

The trend, as council members mentioned last week, is for restaurants to move more business outdoors, but the town’s temporary order ties that allowable outdoor seating to what’s not allowed by the state inside, meaning the outdoor seats gradually go away until they hit zero toward the end of the month.

The owners of Davenport’s previously came to the council seeking permanent status for an outdoor setup they’re planning to upgrade, and other restaurants are now starting to follow suit.

Town Solicitor Kelley Morris Salvatore told the council at its May 5 meeting that they’ll need to decide how to move forward once outdoor seating is no longer allowed by executive order.

Councilor Lisa Beaulieu responded that she believes the town should extend outdoor seating at least through the end of the year to help businesses try to recover their losses during the pandemic. Some have advocated for doing it on a more permanent basis, she said.

Councilor Scott Schmitt, head of the ordinance subcommittee, said the committee will meet anytime day or night to hash out next steps. He said he likes Beaulieu’s idea to extend outdoor seating through the end of the year.

Schmitt asked last week how many restaurants have taken advantage of the town’s order allowing temporary outdoor seating that previously didn’t have such seating, and Town Clerk Sandra Giovanelli said she’s not sure on the number, but there are a few.

Without an order in place, only those restaurants with an approved license for outdoor seating would be allowed to serve customers outside.

Councilor Jim Metivier said he was visiting J. Gray’s on the day of the meeting and heard from the owners that they were looking to create “something special” with couches and outdoor fire pits like Davenport’s. Though Morris Salvatore said the administration is fine with restaurants also adding entertainment options such as cornhole, Metivier said the fire chief told the restaurant no on that particular amenity.

Morris Salvatore said the more specific that council members can be on what’s allowed going forward, the better for the administration.

Comments

Restaurants should be allowed to extend outdoor seating to at least the end of the year, or even better on a more permanent basis. Things are opening up, but the pandemic is not over so outdoor seating would still be useful. But it also might be beneficial to local restaurants in general, just to be able to offer outdoor dining as a choice to their customers regardless of the pandemic.

Outdoor seating should be allowed this year. Not only might it help improve business, something owners need help with, but many patrons might feel safer outdoors, for a few more months anyway. The matter of permanent outdoor seating areas will have to be dealt with by new ordinances and zoning rules, I imagine. The town can (and should) be helpful in the short term, but not careless in the long term.