New restaurant recovery program to expand outdoor dining areas

MADISON, Wis.– Just a couple of days after restaurants reopened to dine-in customers, the City of Madison announced the “Streatery” Restaurant Relief Program.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway signed an emergency order that would expand outside seating areas to accommodate for the new safety restrictions.

“Right now, we are requiring restaurants to operate at 25 percent of their capacity and to maintain that six feet physical distance between parties, which can be really hard for smaller spaces,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We are trying to give folks a few more options.”

Under the order, restaurants can apply to extend their outdoor seating onto public sidewalks, privately-owned parking lots, or on-street parking areas. Applications will be approved through a streamlined administrative approval process, according to the Mayor’s office.

“I also think we are all going to feel a little more comfortable being outside for the time being,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Dino Christ, owner of Nick’s on State Street, said most patrons prefer outside seating.

“It seems like people feel more comfortable outside,” Christ said. “With just two tables outside, we’ve actually had more people sitting outside than a total of inside.”

Christ usually keeps four tables outside, but because of social distancing, he just has two now. He said he’s interested in the possibility of expanding his space.

“As far as State Street is concerned, I don’t know how they would do that,” Christ said. “If it’s okay with our neighbors, we could move a little bit to the left and right. That would be nice.”

The city is considering turning some streets into Cafe Zones, which would close a portion of the street and detour vehicle traffic.

Rhodes-Conway said the new program is not an invitation to host larger gatherings, rather to allow for safer experiences while supporting local businesses.

The temporary program will last until October 25 or until Public Health of Madison and Dane County announce a return to normal operations, whichever comes first.

Applications are now open and fees are waived.