Customers enjoy the outdoor dining space of Dunstan Tap & Table in Scarborough. Contributed / Dunstan Tap & Table

Scarborough restaurants may continue to offer outdoor services through the winter and through May after the Town Council last week extended a pandemic emergency order.

The authorization, which also applies to retailers, was implemented last year to help businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily suspended indoor dining at restaurants and resulted in social distancing requirements and indoor capacity limits.

About 17 Scarborough businesses have set up outdoor spaces under the ordinance, according to Karen Martin, executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corporation. Some are using parking lots or other areas on their properties, Town Manager Tom Hall said.

“We really want to give the business community further opportunity to deal with the current situation,” Hall said.

Jennifer Brenerman, owner of Dunstan Tap & Table in Scarborough, which extended its outdoor dining area and has offered outside service throughout the pandemic, said the ordinance was “extremely important” while indoor dining was prohibited from March to mid-June 2020.  

“It was an integral part for us to even be open,” Brenerman said.

Even when indoor dining returned, outdoor dining was still essential, Hall said.

“There was a period where (indoor dining) was severely reduced when you factor in social distancing,” Hall said. “Indoor seating capacity was significantly diminished.”

Some customers are becoming comfortable dining inside once more, but there are some who prefer to continue dining outdoors.

“I think a lot of folks have come to appreciate the options,” Hall said. “Going forward, even when we’re out of the pandemic situation, my hunch is a number of patrons may be more comfortable with some outdoor options.”

While Dunstan Tap & Table already had a small patio with eight tables, they were able to nearly double their number of tables by extending into their “backyard space,” Brenerman said.

“We added tables onto this grassy area that we just had for games,” Brenerman said. “Instead of using that space just for kids to run around, we actually bought more tables … everything’s been pretty successful.”

Hall said the extension “also acknowledges the fact that a number of businesses have made fairly significant investments in outdoor seating.”

However, simply adding more tables isn’t enough to battle the turbulent Maine weather, especially during the winter.

In Dunstan Tap & Table’s case, investments also included space heaters and tents.

Many restaurants, such as Dunstan Tap & Table in Scarborough, have used tools such as tents and heaters to combat Maine’s winter weather. Contributed / Dunstan Tap & Table

“Last spring, when it was about 40 degrees out, we had our heaters going,” Brenerman said. “It stayed about 70 to 72 out there.”

One of the initial concerns was noise, but that hasn’t been an issue, Hall said. “I have not received a single complaint that any of these operations have been problematic.”

The authorization is set to expire on May 31, 2022. While it is still temporary, Hall foresees local establishments looking to make their outdoor spaces permanent.

“Some may well want to continue,” he said, noting that in order to do so “they may need to go back to the planning board and get additional approvals.”

Dunstan Tap & Table has made some permanent changes.

“We ended up paving the grassy area,” said Brenerman. “We learned that people really enjoyed being outside … it’s a great space and we’ll have it like that forever.”

Hall believes Scarborough’s restaurants ought to be given credit for how “thoughtful” they’ve been in their response to the adversities they’ve faced due to the pandemic.

“We’re very pleased to do our little part to help support our local businesses,” he said.

Scarborough joins other municipalities in Southern Maine in extending temporary outdoor dining ordinances enacted because of the pandemic. Portland’s temporary measure expired in July, but it declared an “outdoor dining and retail festival” through this month that allows the use of temporary outdoor spaces, and it is keeping a few Old Port streets closed to traffic so restaurants and bars have more room for outdoor dining.

In Falmouth, the town council initially ended an emergency outdoor dining measure in August, but backlash from residents resulted in that order’s extension twice, now until Dec. 12,  to give restaurants time to apply for permanent outdoor spaces.

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