JUPITER — It might be closing time for restaurant tents for outdoor seating in Jupiter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local restaurateurs say the town told them last week to remove outdoor dining tents soon, now that Palm Beach County is in Phase 3 and restaurants can operate at 100 percent capacity. Jupiter says restaurants still can seek alternatives, but business owners say the town’s directive comes at a time when they’re reeling financially and many customers remain wary of indoor dining.
At Double Roads Tavern on U.S. 1, taking down the tent they set up could be a significant economic setback, owner Vincent Flora said.
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Flora’s revenue has already been cut in half during the pandemic, he said. Flora previously worked with the town to acquire a free permit for a tent in the parking lot outside Double Roads.
“The bottom line is that 50 percent of society and our customers are not comfortable eating inside right now,” Flora said. “A lot of them are still very afraid. The virus is obviously still there. It doesn’t go away and until we get a vaccine we’re not going to get our customer base to come back.”
Kate Moretto, Jupiter’s public information officer, said Thursday the town has lost its ability to relax outdoor seating regulations now that Palm Beach County is in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Phase 3 of reopening. Previous orders allowing that flexibility have been rescinded, she said.
“Essentially, it is a return to normal code requirements over the next period of weeks as businesses return to operating at full capacity,” Moretto said in an email.
She offered a couple alternatives for businesses: Seek a site plan amendment or acquire a special event permit.
But Flora worried that the regulations attached to a new permit would be a logistical nightmare. It’s not worth the burden and the cost, Flora said. Double Roads has until Oct. 12 to take down its tent, he added.
Jupiter ought to do more to help small business owners, Flora said. Double Roads is trying to keep customers safe while fighting to stay financially viable, he said.
“It’s not just a whim. It’s our lives,” Flora said. “We’re fighting for our lives.”
A similar situation is afoot in Royal Palm Beach, where Royal Palm Brewing said this week on Facebook that it is working with the village to make its temporary outdoor seating permanent.
Expanded outdoor dining became something of a cultural touchstone during the coronavirus pandemic as local governments across the U.S. scrambled to prop up struggling businesses. New York City’s mayor recently announced the city would make permanent its Open Restaurants program, which allows restaurants to set up dining areas on sidewalks and in streets under various restrictions.
Calaveras Cantina has a similar setup in the street out front of the restaurant in Harbourside Place, owner Curtis Peery said. But Peery said he learned last week that the tents have be to off Dockside Circle by Monday.
The directive is frustrating, Peery said, because he normally enjoys a good relationship with town officials.
Harbourside is working with town officials to hopefully secure an extension through the end of the year, Peery said. The seating allowed for a fire lane and there haven’t been traffic problems, he added.
Like Flora, Peery said many customers remain uncomfortable with indoor dining. Forfeiting the expanded setup seems “a little premature,” he said.
“I think (the tent is) really important,” Peery said. “Yeah, we could go back to 100 percent now, which is great but we still need to rebound from the devastating hit that we took. This helps us to do it. We really need it.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Phase 3 ramifications: Jupiter restaurants told to tear down outdoor seating tents