Lexington looking for ways to help restaurants ‘expand’ during cold

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – After successfully finding ways to help restaurants and bars expand seating outside during warmer weather during the coronavirus outbreak, Lexington is searching for “creative” ways to do the same during colder weather.

At least 65 local restaurants and bars have expanded their seating outside since May, when Mayor Linda Gorton announced a program to allow Lexington’s restaurants to expand onto sidewalks, into parking lots and onto closed streets to help them survive COVID-19 restrictions.

“The goal of the outdoor seating program is to protect our restaurants,” Gorton said. “Our city has one of the most exciting culinary scenes in the country, and I think we’re all anxious for our restaurants to survive the pandemic. At the same time, we want everyone to be safe, including those who work in the restaurants, and those who want to eat there. Outdoor seating allows restaurants to maintain social distance and seat more customers.”

Restaurants are still operating at 50 percent capacity, a limit set by Governor Andy Beshear.

VisitLEX, Lexington’s convention and visitors bureau, recently conducted an informal survey to get an idea how many restaurants and bars are participating in the outdoor program.

Sixty-five restaurants and bars were identified, but VisitLEX has anecdotal information that there are other participants.

The mayor and Urban County Council suspended code, permit and fee requirements to allow restaurants and retail to expand their business footprint outdoors.

Restaurants must clearly define their seating boundary. In addition to allowing for social distancing, there must be enough room for those with disabilities to pass by. And wearing masks in restaurants will continue to be important, when possible.

Ralph Quillin, owner of Oscar Diggs at 155 North Limestone St., has found operating a “parklett,” sidewalk extension, usually installed in parking lanes or parking spaces to provide more space, has been great for his business.

“Allowing a more open and pedestrian friendly appeal has been huge for not only us, but all of North Limestone,” he said. “We are really hoping this is a continued part of the drive to bring business to locally owned downtown restaurants.”

“With fall weather moving into town, we will be working with restaurants and bars to see if we can find creative ways to allow businesses to continue to operate outside, which may include using tents and heaters,” said Brandi Peacher, who oversees the restaurant program for the Mayor’s Office.

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