At Salt & Loft in Westhampton Beach, Barry Bernstein said he couldn’t wait to re-open. He’s designed a reopening plan that takes advantage of the eatery’s large patio to accommodate tables with requisite social distancing.
“We are also planning to place tables on the sidewalk in the front of the restaurant, once this is allowed by the village,” he said this week. Additionally, Mr. Bernstein and staff are considering sectioning off a portion of their parking lot for more seating.
“We are quite excited to open for outdoor dining on Thursday … Many of our loyal customers have already stopped by the restaurant to let us know that they will be dining with us on the patio as soon as we open,” he said, adding he already has dinner reservations for this weekend.
And those diners will, indeed, be able to enjoy alfresco repast this weekend, thanks to a special Westhampton Beach Village Board meeting held Tuesday evening via Zoom conference. On the agenda was the approval of a resolution that lays out the terms for expanded outdoor dining in the village.
Like municipalities across the East End and Long Island, local lawmakers have been scrambling to conceive strategies for expanded outdoor dining opportunities since June 3, when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he’d take outdoor dining “out of phase,” and allow it to commence during the phase two of his four phase, NY Forward reopening plan, which began Wednesday, June 10, on Long Island. The same day he announced the move, the state released a laundry list of regulations for venues. They include what’s become the rule during the COVID-19 pandemic — masks, 6 foot separations — as well as a slew of health and safety precautions.
On the local level, temporary outdoor dining measures have been adopted in most municipalities. Common provisions include the filing of an application — at no cost — available either on the municipality’s website or at the various town and village halls. The application should include a diagram of seating. The temporary permits expire on November 1, or when the NY PAUSE restrictions are lifted.
The use of sidewalks, parking lots, and space in front of adjoining businesses — with consent — are permitted across the board, with municipalities, like the Village of Westhampton Beach, including provisions describing the space, in feet, that must be left free for pedestrians.
In East Hampton Village, Mayor Rick Lawler issued an executive order on Monday temporarily allowing restaurants to use the brick portion of the sidewalks outside their establishments for dining tables. East Hampton Village may block off some parking spots directly in front of restaurants so that cars are not parked right next to diners.
“We’re really excited,” Village Trustee Rose Brown said. “I think the provision will give a needed boost to the restaurants and if the restaurants are open, people will come to the village. It’s a great pilot program, we get to see what outdoor dining would be like and we can tweak it along the way. It’s a great way to test the waters.”
In Westhampton Beach, the Village Board discussed a draft measure last Thursday night, then convened specially on Tuesday to adopt a tweaked version. It suspends select zoning code regulations, allows outdoor dining in excess of what’s already permitted in some locales, and allows it for establishments that haven’t had it before, provided compulsory COVID-19 state rules are followed, reflecting measures counterparts considered.
“What we’re doing is a nice, quick, non-bureaucratic solution,” board member Brian Tymann said.
Colleagues in other municipalities also emphasized the desire to make the permitting process painless and speedy. In Southampton Town, at the Town Board’s June 4 meeting, discussion focused on a swift application process, designed to be uncomplicated.
Town Code and Emergency Management Administrator Ryan Murphy said he’s worked with town departments to develop mechanisms to allow for emergency relief for establishments that want to expand their footprints. If a place doesn’t already have outdoor dining, he said the town will work with its owners to help them come close to achieving the same capacity they would have had before. There’s a form to be filled out and, Mr. Murphy said, “We’re making it as simple as possible.” The permit for temporary outdoor dining can be found on the town website under the prompt for “Applications & Forms.”
“I want these restaurants to survive, and would like town to bend over backwards to help them,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said.
“Hopefully, we will have outdoor dining as soon as this weekend,” Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said during Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting.
“This will be a lot of work … but it will also help save our restaurants and Main Street and that is really what is key,” Ms. Mulcahy said on June 3, just minutes before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement.
Last week, she said she would consider adopting executive orders to allow restaurants the ability to apply for a temporary outdoor dining permit while the village moves forward with a code change slated for public hearing later this month. On Tuesday, the mayor said she had already begun to process applications from local restaurant owners.
East Hampton Town officials said on Tuesday that they would have an expedited application in place on Wednesday morning for restaurant owners to get quick permission to begin outdoor dining. The Town Board hashed through the details of allowing dining on sidewalks at the 11th hour, with concerns about how to limit alcohol sales and crowds of diners and those picking up take-out food mixing too tightly near front entrances lingering.
The board was resolved to lift the current restriction that no more than 30 percent of a restaurant’s total capacity be outdoors — allowing for all of the fire-marshal approved seating to be moved outdoors if it can be accommodated. In East Hampton, there will be additional forms necessary to submit to New York State for sidewalk seating to proceed in some places.
The town will allow tents to be erected over dining areas to make the use of outdoor seating less weather sensitive in East Hampton. In Southampton Town, if a business owner wants to erect a tent, he must undergo the traditional permitting process.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that the town should be doing everything it can to clear the way for restaurants to get as many tables into play as can safely be had, but that as protocols are eased, the town will dial back its allowances so tables return to indoor dining rooms. But in the meantime, he said, allowing public spaces to be taken up by businesses is worthwhile allowance.
“This will be a small sacrifice toward getting people employed again,” he said. “The data shows that outdoor transmission is extremely rare. This is the best way to have dining resume.”
East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said his main concerns focus on the sale of alcohol for “off premise” consumption, which the state has been allowing during the forced restaurant closures. State protocols also allow restaurants to set up bars to serve alcohol to those waiting to pick up takeout food. With the popularity of takeout likely to continue remaining high even as some diners are coming back to sit-down service, Mr. Sarlo said he worried “we could have bars on the streets.”
East Hampton Town is also considering closing off a two-block section of Montauk Highway in downtown Montauk one day a week this summer — between Embassy Street and South Edison Street — rerouting traffic down side streets around the closed portion of the roadway. The town is also considering making a handful of the downtown’s streets one-way, to ease issues at historically troublesome intersections.
The idea to close off a portion of the highway will need to be approved by New York State, Mr. Van Scoyoc said.
Southampton Village Board member Mark Parash, a restaurant owner himself, spent Tuesday afternoon walking the village and handing out fresh-off-the-press guidelines to eatery owners in the village. “You could see their eyes open wide, like Santa was coming.”
In the village, he said, “we wanted something that can be done quickly.” Applications are available at Village Hall which opened, with restrictions, on Wednesday.
“Mark has taken the lead on this,” board member Kimberley Allan said. “But we walked and met with virtually all the restaurant owners in the village to vet each one.”
“We’re all reaching for something we can grab onto and say “Hey, look. This is better than it was two weeks ago,” Mr. Parash said.
“It’s going to be cool to see what people come up with,” he enthused. “Business people are creative. We’re probably going to see some pretty cool things.”
State guidance for outdoor dining reads as lengthy and extensive as a Cheesecake Factory menu. It’s 13 pages long, with many mandates — social distancing and masks — now standard procedure in most settings. But it also includes some requirements that could be a surprise, and an expense, for business owners.
Find the full guidelines at www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/OutdoorTakeoutDeliveryFoodServicesMasterGuidance.pdf.
It includes a safety plan template and a link to the site for filing the required affirmation.
Additional reporting by Kathryn Menu and Michael Wright.