March 30, 2021

Senate Extends Outdoor Food, Beverage Service by Restaurants into 2022, Preserving Popular Restaurant Pandemic Operations

HARTFORD – Today, the state Senate approved legislation that will extend outdoor dining activity at restaurants through to March 31, 2022. The legislation, which has no fiscal impact, establishes a process by which local zoning officials can allow or expand outdoor dining at restaurants. It also specifies that any outdoor dining activity previously authorized by executive order will be approved though March 31, 2022. State Senator Mary Daugherty Abrams (D- Meriden, Middlefield, Rockfall, Middletown, Cheshire) today voted to approve; the bill now heads to the Governor’s office to be signed into law.

“As Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, I am in favor of this legislation to extend outdoor dining activity and pleased got this done to help our restaurants and keep residents safe,” Sen. Daugherty Abrams. “The damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been well-documented, and as we begin to see signs of recovery it is imperative that we continue to be cognizant of how deadly this virus truly is. Enabling businesses and restaurants to continue serving customers outdoors as the weather improves prioritizes the health and safety of their customers and employees of the business as well and allows businesses to operate safely.”

If adopted, zoning or planning officials would have the power to expand or permit outdoor activities for restaurants to respond to or provide economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any permit for outdoor eating would not require significant paperwork such as site surveys or traffic studies to expedite the approval process outside of information that could impact public health, safety or the environment. Any applications filed would be responded to within ten days of receipt, and any appeals process after a potential rejection would need to be filed within a week.

Notably, municipalities wishing to permanently expand the availability of outdoor dining and retail activity would be allowed to expedite permanent changes to their zoning rules. In the future, the legislation could be expanded to enable permanent expanded outdoor dining in its current state.

Otherwise, the legislation holds preexisting standards for outdoor activities, such as specific spacing and zoning for outdoor dining that does not interfere with local pathways and are subject to reasonable standards, such as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck in spring 2020, restaurants struggled under limitations imposed on their businesses by public safety standards. Expansion of outdoor dining led to increased safety and comfort for diners, leading to benefits for the businesses adopting them. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control found patients who reported dining inside a restaurant were 2.4 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic.