As North Shore towns grapple with restaurant dining in this new COVID-19 era, this past weekend marked the first of two weekends during which Newburyport will shut down State Street to allow for more outdoor dining.
Phase two of Massachusetts’ phased reopening began June 8, allowing restaurants to welcome diners as long as they were outside. Newburyport, which normally has a quaint, buzzing downtown area especially in the summer months, put up Jersey barriers in many places to block off parking spaces and make even more room for outdoor dining.
Many restaurants and retailers have been permitted by the town to expand outdoor dining into public and private land. Restaurants like Brine, Ceia, and Oregano have expanded onto the street and into street parking spaces. Mission Oak Grill has expanded their outdoor dining beyond their patio and onto the Brown Square Lawn. The Port Tavern has expanded their outdoor dining into four parking spaces and down the street, giving them capacity for fifty outside tables.
“The response from guests has been very favorable,” said Abbie Hannan, general manager of The Port Tavern. “Many have compared the atmosphere to cafes in Europe. If anything, the outdoor seating… has made the city seem more alive.”
The City Council also authorized two “events” this month that’ll allow them to shut down State Street to car traffic and allow restaurants and retailers to expand their outdoor space further. The first event took place last weekend from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. each night from Thursday through Sunday, and the second event will be held on the same days this coming weekend.
“I think alfresco dining will be a big hit regardless of location this summer. Menus will be smaller and change more frequently,” said Nancy Batista-Caswell of Newburyport’s Ceia and Brine, both on State Street.
Batista-Caswell said that so far, outdoor dining has been going smoothly and has been a positive experience for guests. Though the restaurant industry is looking at some big changes for this summer, most local restaurants seem equipped to jump into this new normal. “We’re all learning how to properly read guests to put them at ease.”
She also mentioned that food procurement has been more difficult, as supply chains all over the country deal with some intense shifts. Hannan also mentioned another restaurant industry downside right now: lots of disposable single-use products. She says The Port Tavern is trying to use recycled products whenever possible, and though single-use products aren’t very sustainable, it’s for the safety of guests and staff.
But John Wolfe, co-owner of Brick & Ash and The Poynt, anticipates a good summer season. “We expect July and August to be busy with pent up demand from staying home for so many months,” said Wolfe. “And with international travel and air flights still scary for many, it’ll be a good summer for car trips and vacations.”
“The last few months have been a huge learning experience for anyone in the restaurant industry,” said Hannan. “We’ll just keep rolling with the punches. We’re just so glad that we’re back open!”
This past Monday, Governor Baker announced that restaurants would be allowed to start offering indoor dining in a limited capacity. However, if guests still feel more comfortable dining outside, these Newburyport restaurants will continue to offer the best outdoor experience they can.