The recent spate of rain is putting a damper on outdoor dining

  • Outdoor dining at lunch on Tuesday at Brad's Place in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Outdoor dining at lunch on Tuesday at Brad's Place in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • The Wagon Wheel in Gill. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Outdoor seating at the Wagon Wheel in Gill. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Outdoor seating at the Wagon Wheel in Gill. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Adina Chasan-Taber and Willa Hartl, servers at the Alvah Stone, now work mostly outside and wear masks. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • The Alvah Stone has expanded its outdoor deck seating. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2020 2:04:49 PM

Would you eat lunch in the rain? When Massachusetts allowed restaurants to reopen after the coronavirus shutdown, it also added new rules limiting the numbers of customers that restaurants may seat indoors, and requiring them to keep relatively large distances between tables.

To make up for some of the lost capacity, many restaurants moved into outdoor seating areas. Some expanded outdoor seating that they already had, and some that hadn’t previously had outdoor seating made totally new arrangements.

The obvious problem with outdoor seating has been highlighted by a spell of summer rain storms that began last week, and which is forecasted to continue at least into next week.

But restaurateurs reported very different experiences of how they have fared the difficult weather. Some said they saw significant drops, while others said their customers apparently had no problems with dining in the rain.

At one extreme is the Wagon Wheel on Route 2 in Gill, which has filled much of its outdoor space with picnic tables and has totally closed its indoor seating area.

The outdoor picnic tables have been busy every day, even through the rain, said the front manager of the Wagon Wheel, Bonnie Eddy. Customers also take their food to go, or sit in their cars to eat. Any drop in business the rain may have caused has been very little, she said.

“We were surprised, really,” she said. “The rain really didn’t affect us all that much.”

Others are more exposed to the rain.

The Alvah Stone, the restaurant next to The Montague Bookmill in Montague, has always had seating on its outdoor deck, but relies on it more heavily now. The deck’s seating has also been expanded, with standing tables attached to the railings.

One of the managers, Deidre Kelly, said the restaurant usually only makes a few take-out orders a night. Most of its business is still as a dine-in restaurant, just with a different seating arrangement.

“We went into this plan knowing we would have to develop a rain plan,” Kelly said. “After last weekend, it made us think a little harder about how our operations will change on a rainy day.”

The North Village Smokehouse, in Millers Falls, also relies heavily on its outdoor seating. With social distancing rules, the restaurant can now seat a little less than half of its normal capacity, including its outdoor space on its patio, said owner Sean Keller.

“Bad weather is certainly a concern,” he said. “But what concerns me even more is forced capacity social distancing restrictions continuing to be in place come fall, winter weather, when our patio is no longer an option.”

Brad’s Place, a diner on Main Street in Greenfield, had just set up its outdoor seating last week, right before the rain started.

Because it was the first week, it was hard to judge how much better business may have been if the weather had been better, said one of the managers, Sarah Devine.

But, she said, restaurant workers have guessed the outdoor seating will be more popular once the weather clears up. Many of Brad’s customers are people who work in downtown Greenfield, she said, and they will probably be glad to be able to take their lunch break outside.

“I think a lot of people are excited to have that option,” Devine said. “Before Covid, there weren’t too many places in downtown Greenfield where you had that option.”

But because Brad’s Place normally hasn’t had outdoor seating, it doesn’t have weather-proof furniture that can be left outside, Devine said. Workers have been bringing tables outside every morning, then storing them inside at the end of the day.

Managers are now looking into purchasing outdoor furniture, Devine said, because they want to be able to work outdoors semi-permanently, until they are allowed to seat closer to their normal capacity inside.

When that happens will depend on the pace that the state government moves through its reopening plan, which will depend on how quickly the country can get the pandemic under control. Which means that the future is still very uncertain for restaurants.

For the North Village Smokehouse, the reduced capacity translates directly to reduced sales, said owner Keller. If outdoor seating becomes unfeasible when the weather gets colder, and if the restaurant can’t at that point increase its indoor seating, then the negative trend will get worse, he expects.

Even the Wagon Wheel, which has been relatively successful with the new restrictions, is uncertain about what it will do when the weather gets colder.

“I’m not sure what the fall is going to bring,” said Eddy, the front manager. “We’re looking at some numbers.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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