I’ll Eat Outside at Boston Restaurants All Winter If I Have To
If you would have braved the freezing cold for a Patriots game, you should do it to save local restaurants, too.
[This post was updated on Tuesday, Sept. 15.]
On Thursday, the NFL kicked off its 2020 season—one that will be played to otherwise empty stadiums. There won’t be the usual Patriots fans hunkered down in Gillette on even the coldest winter days, draped in fleecy blankets and with gloved hands wrapped around frosty beers, cheering on the hometown team in defiance of any bone-chilling weather. Sad, isn’t it? There’s something special about camaraderie forged when freezing your ass off with strangers in support of a common cause. But, wait—there’s still a way to recapture some of that frigid good-fellowship.
Boston, I beseech thee to redirect your flinty resilience from the gridiron to the garden patios of the restaurant world. Also on Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker extended Massachusetts’ expanded outdoor dining season beyond its original expiration date of November 1, and Mayor Marty Walsh followed up the next week with a Boston-specific extension that goes until December 1. Obviously, that’s good news for business owners largely dependent on maximizing al fresco seating at the moment—but it won’t mean a thing if we don’t actually park our cold butts under a toasty patio heater, even when there’s a warmer couch waiting for us at home. Most restaurants are in a life-or-death struggle, and we’ll need to root them on with the same committed enthusiasm and attendance we show to our sports teams if we don’t want even more of them to vanish. After all, according to recent stats from the Massachusetts Restaurants Association, nearly one in four have closed, temporarily or permanently, as a result of the pandemic—that’s 3,600 businesses, plus all the attendant jobs and incalculable contributions to Bay State culture, wiped out or on extremely thin ice.
Bad as that is, it could still get worse. When I ask Boston chefs to peer into the future—and lately, I do all the time—many speculate that up to half the city’s restaurants could shutter for good over the winter. How’s that for cold water? The even harsher truth is that outdoor dining alone won’t save the city’s restaurants; profits are thin when there’s not a pandemic, so bustling patios offer suffering restaurants only life support—not a cure. But every little bit helps, of course, and not just monetarily. There’s a reason that some sports team have been piping fake crowd noise into their stadiums: The show of support is—for servers and cooks, as much as athletes—emotionally motivating. It improves performance, and keeps a body chugging on even when it’s exhausted.
We are all exhausted at this point—which is why it shouldn’t be incumbent on diners alone to save the city’s hospitality industry. Sure, the state authorized to-go cocktails (it should have been done long ago) and gave communities more time (and perhaps a little more money) for expanded outdoor dining options. But we need more substantive, long haul-focused solutions—especially from the feds.
Right now, though, that seems like a longshot. Despite bipartisan support, a $120 billion relief bill—dubbed the RESTAURANTS Act—remains stalled in Congress and the White House has made it pretty clear that we, the people, are largely on our own to manage the fallout of the virus.
So let’s rally, shall we? We’ll hopefully have a couple more months of pleasant weather ahead, but if we don’t do our part when the mercury falls, our restaurants will simply be slaughtered. Remember: Tom Brady never knew how you take your morning coffee and Rob Gronkowski never asked you about your kids. But the woman who runs your favorite taqueria down the street? The guy at your neighborhood sandwich shop, who always remembers to add extra mayo without you having to ask? These are the people you actually know, and they actually want to stay here. They’re all-stars who deserve and are counting on your support. Prepare to pull out your heaviest sweatshirt and dust off your proverbial pompoms—and come on Boston, let me hear you make some noise.