BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Downtown diners could soon enjoy their meals and drinks in the great outdoors.
A proposal before the City Council would allow full-service outdoor dining at three restaurants on a trial basis starting June 1. If all goes well, the city would set a permanent policy for 2014.
“It should be a cool thing for Beverly,” said Prides Osteria owner Michael Magner, whose Rantoul Street restaurant will take part in the pilot program. “If we could get people on Cabot and Rantoul streets sitting out, it should be great for the city.”
Current city rules allow restaurants and coffee shops to set up tables on the sidewalk, but customers must order their food inside and bring it outside themselves. The new regulations would permit customers to be waited on at outside tables and also be served liquor.
Joyce McMahon, who works on economic development for the city and served on a committee looking into outdoor dining, said the proposal was sparked by a recent community survey conducted by Beverly Main Streets.
“People asked for outdoor dining. It’s something they want to see,” McMahon said. “It will certainly help create a nice atmosphere for the downtown and give people a different way to enjoy it.”
Main Streets Executive Director Gin Wallace said the group approached the downtown’s full-service restaurants about participating in the pilot program, and two responded.
Magner is seeking approval for six outdoor tables at Prides Osteria, at 240 Rantoul St., as well as for four tables at Prides Piccola Napolitano, a pizza restaurant at 202 Rantoul St. that he is scheduled to open on June 15.
EJ Cabot’s has applied for five outdoor tables at its 282 Cabot St. location.
The City Council must approve the outdoor dining plans. The restaurants also need the approval of the city’s Licensing Board and the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to serve alcohol on the sidewalk.
The tables must be arranged to allow at least 3 feet for pedestrians on the sidewalk. McMahon said officials are looking into whether smoking would be allowed in the outdoor dining area.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Monday, May 20.
“I think it’s great news,” Council President Paul Guanci said at last week’s council meeting. “You see how it works in Boston. You see how it works in Salem. You see how it works in Newburyport. We’re always compared to Newburyport because we have a harbor. We’re getting there, step by step.”
Guanci, who owns Super Sub on Cabot Street, said he is planning to put four tables outside of his business, but they will be on his own property, not on the city sidewalk. Businesses do not need approval for outdoor tables on their own property, unless they plan to serve alcohol.
Restaurant owner Magner said outdoor dining could provide a particular boost for Rantoul Street, an area the city is trying to improve.
“We’re working on changing what people think of Rantoul Street,” Magner said. “If you’ve got people sitting out there eating and dining and seeing the good side of Rantoul Street, I think it’s going to grow.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.