June 1st was a momentous occasion for the restaurant community here in Portland. After 4 long months of the stay-at-home order and many eateries temporarily shuttering their doors to guests, outdoor dining was permitted by the state to over 80 businesses in Portland. This of course proposed a unique challenge to those without outdoor spaces and how they would adhere to the new safety and health requirements. This challenge was met by the city with the wonderfully unique idea of ‘air markets’.
The air market concept allowed for sections of 5 different streets in downtown Portland (Dana, Wharf, Exchange, Middle, and Milk streets) to be closed off to car traffic. This allowed for establishments to set up spaces in the street for patrons to sit outside while meeting social distancing requirements. Some of these restaurants include The Thirsty Pig, Highroller Lobster Company, The North Point, and many more. Some even enlisting the help of local craftspeople such as Barrett Made to help build elevated patios and platforms. Life was beginning to return to the streets of Portland, and the new, albeit cautious, normalcy of the world began settling in. And then, something even more surprising and unthinkable happened…
On June 17th, in response to declining numbers in both cases and deaths, Governor Mills permitted indoor dining in Androscoggin, Cumberland, and York counties.
“Maine people and businesses have worked hard to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and the stabilization of cases and hospitalizations in York, Cumberland, and Androscoggin counties help demonstrate that,” said Governor Mills. “But this pandemic is not over. As we reopen restaurants for indoor dining and other businesses in these areas, we remain vigilant. Businesses must strictly adhere to health and safety protocols and all people should wear face coverings, stay six feet apart whenever possible, and frequently wash their hands. If we continue to protect ourselves and one another by taking these steps, we can reopen our economy in a safe way and limit the spread of this dangerous virus.”Office of Governor Janet T. Mills
What was a slow and steady path to reopening outdoor dining suddenly became a sprint for a number of Portland restaurants to fill tables inside. Although indoor dining is once again permitted by the state, you won’t be seeing every single one of your favorite haunts opening their doors quite just yet. Months of keeping ourselves indoors and adapting to certain cleanliness habits has indoor dining not appear viable for some restaurant owners. In the meantime however, as we wait for Portland to slowly open its doors back open once again, there is so much to enjoy that will remind you of the wonderful place our coastal city was and still is.
But I’m sure you’re wondering, ‘What do I need to do to stay safe and healthy when I go out to eat?’ Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, there are a number of required safety precautions you, your party, and the staff will have to follow. These safety measures include:
- Physical distancing
- Tables spaced far apart
- Limited occupancy
- Requiring guests to wear face coverings when away from table
- Face coverings worn by staff
- Frequent disinfecting and cleaning
The biggest requirement of you as a patron will be to always have your mask and to wear it when you’re not at the table. It also doesn’t hurt to keep some hand sanitizer on your person for whenever you touch dishware or use the bathroom. The greatest measures however will be taken by your staff. Tables set far apart from one another, masks worn by all the staff, and a thorough wipe down of your tables and chairs as you leave/arrive.
Not only are these precautions required by the state, but are also steps taken by the restaurants to ensure the safety of both you and their staff. Even if it seems a little over the top sometimes, eateries are more than happy to keep everyone including you healthy. So if you’re ever handed a slightly wet laminated menu, just remember that it’s a clean menu!
Some restaurants will even take it one step further. In an effort to establish contract tracing (a way of keeping track of who comes in and out of an establishment in the event that a single case or outbreak occurs) some restaurants will even require you to give your name, phone number, and sometimes email address. Blyth & Burrows is a good example of this practice in downtown Portland. Upon my first outdoor visit after many months, I was required to give my name and number. Very quick, painless, and left me with a sense of ease knowing that if anything were to go awry, I’d be kept informed.
So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic! It’s purely for the sake of keeping you and everyone around you up to date in the event of an emergency. You won’t see this everywhere, but when you do, I like to believe it’s just one extra step to make sure you can enjoy as many of Portland’s bountiful food scene as possible.
For more information on restaurants providing indoor/outdoor seating in Portland, here is a full list of restaurants with outdoor dining.