TAKE A SEAT: Siena General Manager Chris Tarro, right, says that alfresco dining serves to both increase the capacity of the restaurant and provide advertising. Pictured at left is Siena President Anthony M. Tarro.
Last year, the businesses on Washington Square in Newport found a way to boost foot traffic and sales that had been sitting on the sidewalks in front of their establishments all along.
Outdoor restaurant dining, long popular on Newport’s waterfront decks and patios, had never taken hold there in the European streetside-café style popular in other cities. But across Rhode Island, restaurants are becoming ever-more important to the economy and, in the warm months, outdoor dining is becoming increasingly important to eateries.
When Yesterday’s Ale House was allowed to start serving customers on the sidewalk last year, the presence of tables and umbrellas in front of the eatery drew the attention of tourists who might never normally stray from Thames Street.
“It has been a great boost and made a big difference in Washington Square foot traffic,” said Richard “Biggy” Korn, co-owner of Yesterday’s, which estimated a 25 percent jump in business last summer due to the alfresco tables.
“Plus, it is so important to have a feeling of community. That is what cities do – get people out of their cars and into the community.”
A few doors down, Jonathan’s coffee shop also got a permit for outdoor tables and to the northeast on Broadway, another commercial area the city is trying to revitalize, four more restaurants have gone alfresco.
The Washington Square Roots community group made it one of their tools for revitalizing the area and it’s backed by local business groups.
“We certainly support the effort and have championed the people downtown who have tried to do that,” said Newport County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Sullivan about the effort to allow sidewalk dining where it hadn’t been before. “It’s welcoming and the umbrellas create energy, color and beauty.”
In Providence, 106 restaurants had licenses to put tables on the city-owned sidewalk in front of their doors in 2012, according to figures from Providence License Administrator Serena Conley.
Conley said she gets the sense more are doing it, but totals for past years that would confirm it were not available because of the city’s paper-based permitting and record-keeping system. This year’s applications are still coming in.