Edgartown establishes outdoor dining policy

Restaurants can now apply with detailed plans to use sidewalks, parking lots and other public spaces.

Restaurants can now submit plans for expanded outdoor dining. - Brian Dowd

Outdoor, cafe-esque dining got the green light from Edgartown selectmen Monday, who allowed restaurants to apply to expand their dining into streets and parking lots.

Pitched as a “European model” several weeks ago, the licensed premises policy, adopted by Edgartown selectmen Monday, allows restaurants to create and expand seating areas onto “either private or public property, including public-rights-of-way,” according to the policy. Selectmen did not decide on sidewalk closures, and instead will wait until applications are submitted.

Town administrator James Hagerty said the town tried to accommodate everyone. “I think we can send this out, get the responses back, look at it collectively, and based on the intent we’ve heard from the Edgartown Board of Trade, with regard to not blocking any streets, with regard to minimizing the traffic impact, I think we can meet that intent based on this policy,” Hagerty said.

The policy comes as the coronavirus pandemic has left many unknowns of what summer on Martha’s Vineyard will look like for residents, visitors, and businesses.

It also comes as the state’s phase two reopening plan began Monday. The outdoor dining guidelines in the state’s plan only allow for expansion of seating on to pre-existing premises.

Restaurants will apply by submitting an application with details on dimensions, seating capacity, maximum occupancy, table location, furnishings, and sanitation. Restaurants will also have to describe areas designated for picking up takeout food. For outdoor dining, umbrellas will be allowed, trash and recycling will be required, and smoking will be prohibited.

All outdoor dining premises must be enclosed by a “fence, rope, or other means to prevent access from a public walkway.” If a restaurant is expanding onto town-owned property, it must enter into a licensing agreement with the town.

Alcohol can only be served outside of the licensed restaurant once its expanded seating area application has been approved by selectmen. Customers can only order alcohol with food if they are dining in the expanded seating area. 

Applications will be reviewed by the board of health, building inspector, historic district commission, highway superintendent, fire department, and police department, who have seven days to recommend the application be approved. Town selectmen will then make final approval.

The policy also states that restaurant owners shall carry liability insurance coverage, and add the town as an additional insured for the premises. If alcohol is served on the premises, the town shall be included as an additional insured on the liquor liability insurance.

Patrick Courtney, co-owner of the Port Hunter and the Covington, was concerned about restaurants who might not have the physical setup to expand outside, creating an unfair playing field.

Hagerty said the policy was framed around the food supply chain, as opposed to strictly an economic plan. “It’s not picking winners or losers. I think the only winner we’re picking is the town of Edgartown. We are in a bad shape right now with the harbor, some other revenue-generating town industries, and we need to figure out a way to somewhat sustain that,” Hagerty said. “Based on the application, we will entertain whatever we can within reason.”


  1. When I was in Europe I noticed many restaurants operating out of small spaces and running food down alleys and small passages to get to the open air spaces their patrons were sitting at. Despite the disconnection, nearby wait stations helped bridge the gap and deliver great service. Where there is a will, there is a way.

  2. Terrific idea and terrific plan. Edgartown will figure it out, they always do. The plan will work well when followed as outlined, any body breaching the plan as outlined must be dealt with speedily. The plan depends on open streets for emergency and first respond vehicles to navigate the town for the benefit of the citizens of the town. Edgartown has good leaders.

  3. My family looks forward to supporting our local restaurants and shops. Glad to see folks being creative and flexible, and most importantly, working together.

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