East Hampton Town will consider making outdoor dining allowances afforded to local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent in response to public applause of the policy and worries that health concerns about indoor spaces may be on minds for a long time.
The Town Board on Tuesday held its first discussion of draft legislation that would set up a pilot program trial allowing a restaurant to shift up to 100-percent of its total legal seating capacity to approved outdoor spaces if the operators saw fit, up from the 30 percent currently allowable.
“We recognize that our restaurants have been among the hardest hit businesses in our town,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said during a discussion of the idea at Tuesday’s Town Board work session. “In general, we understand that outdoor dining is a safe way for them to do business with significant social distancing safeguards in place.”
The proposal would allow only existing approved seating to be relocated and would apply only to dining tables, not walk-up bars or any kind of food preparation and cooking arrangements. There would be restrictions on lighting arrangements similar to what are already in place and the town’s fire marshals and Planning Board would have to approve all potential arrangements of seating and heating systems.
Board members expressed some reservations about the hours that the additional outdoor dining would be allowed to operate, as well as whether restaurants that are in residential neighborhoods would be able to avail themselves of the expanded seating space.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said that members of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee had been enthusiastic about the town continuing to allow expanded outdoor dining at restaurants and especially the use of downtown sidewalks by adjacent restaurants and food retailers.
The shift to outdoor dining has been celebrated as a saving grace for restaurants with the pandemic protections in place over the summer. Restaurants are currently limited to 50 percent of their indoor capacity with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart, which has substantially reduced the number of seats many would have available as outdoor dining weather fades.