Reading, MA — If you have driven through the center of town recently, you may have noticed a new addition to the familiar scenes of downtown Reading: a large, outdoor tent.
The tent, belonging to Venetian Moon, is part of the local reaction to the rollout of Phase II of the reopening of the Massachusetts economy, which allows, for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March, outdoor dining to return.
Starting June 22, Massachusetts entered Step 2 of Phase II, which allows for the return of indoor dining. However, it may be a while before restaurants return to fully indoor dining, as the state recommends that restaurants attempt to focus on outdoor dining in order to fully comply with social distancing guidelines.
“When indoor table service is permitted, restaurants are encouraged to structure operations to operate as much as possible through outdoor table service and to strictly limit indoor table service in order to assure effective compliance with social distancing requirements and to limit activities within confined spaces” states the Safety Standards and Checklist for restaurants.
A focus on providing service while still maintaining social distance has forced local restaurants to come up with some creative solutions. While some restaurants such as Bunratty Tavern and Biltmore & Main provided outdoor dining even before the pandemic, others are exploring this option for the first time.
The Town of Reading has attempted to expedite this process by passing a series of ordinances to make it easier for restaurants to pursue outdoor dining for the first time. On June 16, the Select Board voted to expand Venetian Moon’s liquor license to allow for alcohol to be served within the restaurant’s new tent. Shortly after this, the Board of Health passed an order to temporarily suspend the enforcement of parking regulations for restaurants, allowing them to use these parking spaces for outdoor dining.
“We also implemented the “Bistro Table Program.” With the help of the Chamber [of Commerce], we got some bistro tables and tables and gave them to businesses. For some of the smaller businesses that didn’t already have outdoor tables, these are great, they are compact, and can be put out in the morning and then pulled in again at night” said Assistant Town Manager, Jean Delios. Four businesses downtown are already using the tables provided by this program: The Last Corner Restaurant, The Green Tomato, Professor’s Market, and Fusion Café.
For many of the restaurants downtown, the return of outdoor dining has marked the first time since the start of the pandemic they have been able to provide any kind of service besides take-out. Across their social media platforms, restaurants seek to ease diners’ fears regarding health measures.
“This is an exciting experience for everybody at Venetian and the Town, and we want it to be a safe and successful one for the entire summer,” said a June 19 post on Venetian Moon’s Facebook page. The restaurant’s outdoor dining tent is currently set up to accommodate a maximum of 58 people and is operating on a limited cocktail menu and a full dinner menu.
“We are following all social distancing guidelines and are cleaning thoroughly after each seating and throughout the restaurant throughout the day. Our full breakfast and lunch menus are available! Call ahead seating is no longer available. No parties over 6 are allowed” said a June 23 post on Christopher’s Restaurant Facebook page. Christopher’s Restaurant is currently offering both (limited) indoor and outdoor service between the hours of 7 am to 2 pm.
“Face coverings will be required entering, using Restrooms and departing. So long as you’re sitting at your table you may remove your face covering. No standing allowed and please keep stopping by your friends at tables to a minimum, with face coverings intact. Maximum of 6 people per table and Children must remain seated at all times. […] Our bathrooms are stocked with Antibacterial hand soap and hand sanitizer is available when you enter and leave at the hostess station” states a June 21 post on Bunratty Tavern’s Facebook page. Bunratty Tavern began offering indoor dining on June 22nd in addition to its outdoor dining patio.
With the introduction of new outdoor dining options in the town of Reading, one thing is clear: local restaurants are excited to interact with their diners again, and if the nightly crowds at Venetian are indicative of anything, residents are excited for their return as well.
“If I could suggest one thing, it would be to show some kindness to these people who have been out of work for the better part of three months. Even when you get takeout, if you can try and spare a few dollars, restaurant workers have really been struggling, especially the out of work servers” said Delios.