WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Dining al fresco is becoming more popular as restaurants find new ways to serve diners amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This weekend, West Palm Beach rolled out a new "Dining on the Spot" initiative to increase outdoor seating on Clematis Street in downtown.
Dining on the Spot is a collaborative program between the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and the city.
The program will allow the service areas for downtown restaurants to extend beyond traditional cafe seating onto downtown streets, into parking lots and into alleyways for pedestrians and patrons to enjoy.
The dining spaces will allow for small groups or members of the same household to enjoy a restaurant meal while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of 6 feet distance between guests.
All Florida counties will enter the state's full phase one plan Monday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the executive order to allow restaurants, retail stores and gyms to increase capacity to 50% effective May 18.
The order also states that "outdoor seating is permissible with a minimum of six feet between parties."
However, many restaurant owners have voiced concerns about affording the cost to stay open with limitation on seating capacity indoors, so they're hoping to recover the deficit by turning the outdoor space into an open-air cafe.
"We started working on this idea as soon as it became clear that the virus would remain a danger for many months, and re-opening the economy was becoming more urgent every day," Mayor Keith James said. "This is one of the ways that thinking outside the box can deliver immediate relief from the COVID-related constraints for one of the foundational sectors of the downtown business community and attract people -- in safe numbers -- back to our businesses.”
The program will provide funding for the furnishings, any required leases and management of the dining spaces.
Other areas under consideration for closure to pedestrian-only are the CityZen Garden at Datura Street and Dixie Highway and the Alexander Art Park at Fern Street and Dixie Highway.
"We'll be able to seat around 350 people safely on the 200 block of Clematis Street alone," said Raphael Clemente, executive director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority. "In addition to the tables, chairs and umbrellas, we will be adding trashcans, hand sanitizer areas and creating a centralized sidewalk within the road closure area for both safety and enjoyment."
West Palm Beach Fire Rescue and several departments within the city will take the lead on enforcing the rules to make sure the operations are fully safe and sensible.
Dining on the Spot locations will be open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and will be available to dining patrons only.