Al Fresco: Outdoor Dining Begins at Restaurants in Charlestown as Interior Space Becomes Available

In the doldrums of COVID-19, restaurants like Monument on Main Street were searching for ways to try to keep afloat with lockdowns in place, no light seemingly at the end of the tunnel and a dining area that was quiet and empty night after night.

Earlier this week, staff members at Monument Restaurant began assembling a patio area for outdoor dining on the sidewalk and street to supplement the loss of indoor dining space. With limited indoor dining allowed on Monday by the state, Monument opened once again on Tuesday.

Take-out was the norm and it only went so far, but there was a bright light on May 5 – Cinco de Mayo.

“We had to adjust on the fly and find new and creative ways to keep the community engaged,” said Jon Sweeney, managing partner. “We always did take-out and delivery, but expanded those with regards to the City and State allowing us to sell beer and wine to go. That was extremely helpful…We also did some kids and tried to make sure that if the community couldn’t come here, they could bring us to their home. We pre-sold Taco kits and Margarita kits on Cinco de Mayo and it was a tremendous success. I think it was our best night.”

Said Partner Damien Donovan, “Jon and our General Manager Lauren Whalen did a fantastic job with this and being extremely creative with one hand tied behind their backs. They did new things that were hugely successful. From my point of view, looking for the silver lining, I couldn’t have been more impressed.”

Now, however, Monument is preparing to welcome back their patrons to an outdoor patio area they are constructing with the help of the City being flexible on using public and private spaces. They also will have a limited amount of seating inside the restaurant too, but lose the bar area.

It is, Sweeney said, simply nice to be really open.

“We have had to kind of re-arrange some things, spacing out tables and making things safe by installing plexiglass partitions so we can use our booths,” he said. “We definitely had to adjust and lose a lot of our tables as well as the bar seating. We won’t have anyone at the bar and so we lost that. We have a plan though and we think people will like it.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said the legislature has worked hard to make sure there were concessions for restaurants like Monument, including allowing beer and wine sales to go. He also said there might be some great lessons learned as a silver lining.

“I know a lot of people are hurting right now,” he said. “My hope is that we climb out of this as quickly as possible. There were also some positives that came out this too. I enjoyed the different take-out dining options in our local establishments. I really hop our small businesses can use some of these creative ideas to make them stringer moving forward.”

All over Charlestown, many restaurants have adjusted on the fly to install outdoor seating where there was none – such as the fun new patio at the Warren Tavern, which hopes to be able to place some seating on the street adjacent to the front door. Likewise, at places like Brewer’s Fork, they are expanding their existing patio and hope to use sidewalk and street space also.

That is a new understanding of the business in that just because some indoor space can be used now, it doesn’t mean that the outdoor space is any less critical. In fact, many restaurateurs are looking at the outdoor space as a way this summer and fall to make up for the lost table space inside. It’s also less intimidating for people just returning to social life, who may be a little anxious about eating inside.

“The patio was an opportunity we pursued and got approval for a small area on our sidewalk and the street, which is going to be nice,” he said. “It is a huge lifeline for us with the reduction we have inside already. Using outdoor seats will be a huge help.”

As the staff set up the patio earlier this week on Main Street in anticipation of the re-opening, Sweeney and Donovan said customers and friends passed by and would give them applause. Everyone was excited to see the re-opening, but also to see the new patio option.

Donovan said it’s something that is going to make Main Street a very different place, and hopefully for longer than just this summer.

“As much as having the outdoor seating helps the business, having a patio set up sort of activates Main Street to a degree,” he said. “I think as the opportunity opens up and people see others dining on the patio, it will be a great thing for all of Main Street as well.”

As they opened Tuesday night, both Sweeney and Donovan said they weren’t completely leaving their COVID-19 experience behind. Some things they found worked really well, and they just might continue doing them.

“There are a lot of things we did that worked, and we will probably see if we can keep them around,” said Sweeney.”

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