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Boston's outdoor dining program ends Friday, but city hopes to make it permanent next year

A server brings beverages to a group of people dining for lunch at Mother Anna’s in the North End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A server brings beverages to a group of people dining for lunch at Mother Anna’s in the North End. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

More than 400 restaurants, cafes and bars in Boston must close their temporary patios on city sidewalks and streets on Friday when the city's pilot program for outdoor dining ends for the season.

But some business owners hope to eventually operate their ad-hoc dining spaces throughout the year, including the coldest months of the year.

"Look, there's plenty of restaurants that had patios that were able to keep those open all year round last year," said Bob Luz, president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. "So there is a model out there that says this could certainly happen."

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu initially extended the city's outdoor dining program by a month to give local businesses more leeway. And city planners say they're exploring whether to allow outdoor dining throughout the year.

"We are still working out the details of what our permanent permitting process will be for 2022 and beyond," said Boston's Public Realm Director Jacob Wessel.

Kathleen Joyce, chairwoman of Boston's licensing board, said the new permitting process needs to solve for two major issues: First, how to remove snow around the temporary dining structures and, second, how to reconcile conflicts with the city's zoning code.

There's also an impending deadline: the state's program to allow cities and towns to offer temporary outdoor dining permits ends April 1, 2022.

Joyce has some advice for restaurants in the meantime: "Don't throw away the additional furniture you've invested in ... Stay tuned."

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Walter Wuthmann is an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom.

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