As much as we cannot wait until the last vestiges of pandemic life are a distant memory, from mask wearing to drive-thru COVID-19 testing, some aspects of adaptation should not be retired, if at all. Put outdoor dining high on that list.
We cannot wax too poetic about the al fresco dining that spilled onto sidewalks, in parking lots and elsewhere last year. After all, it was only because precautions to prevent spread of COVID-19 kept people from dining indoors that so many restaurants, from Beverly to Newburyport to Andover, created makeshift dining rooms outdoors.
Still, dinner in the summer evening turned out to be a welcome respite for many people from the realities of a pandemic. And it's sure to be even more pleasurable now, as we can look to the moon and ponder the vast number of people now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (more than 61% of the adult population in Massachusetts.)
It's beneficial for restaurants, too. As long as outdoor service remains popular, particularly among patrons still wary of indoor crowds, it can help support businesses still crawling back from the shock of COVID-19.
Lawmakers would be wise to extend rules allowing expedited special permits for outdoor dining and alcoholic beverage service through the end of November, as Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed. Without their action, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, permits issued under the emergency order allowing outdoor service will expire in mid-August -- two months after the state of emergency is lifted on June 15.
It's deeply unfortunate that the Legislature on Tuesday passed up other chances to help the struggling food and beverage industry -- namely, by allowing restaurants to continue takeout cocktail service and capping fees that delivery services charge back to restaurants. Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, had proposed both as budget amendments that were shot down in voice votes on Tuesday.
The bill floated by Baker can't be allowed to meet the same fate, untouched on the legislative plate. Lawmakers should act, if not to let us savor the experience of dining under the stars a little bit longer, then at least to ensure support for a still weakened industry and the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods are attached to it.