Not that Wellesley doesn’t want you to chow down at its restaurants, but you now can order an alcoholic beverage in the town’s eating establishments without swearing that you’ll have a meal.
The Select Board voted Monday during its Nov. 22 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording) to make significant changes to Wellesley’s alcoholic beverage rules and regulations, including the limit on bar seating to 10% of capacity and the Intent to Dine provision that frustrated restaurant owners and customers alike. The hope is that this update will encourage more restaurants to come to town, and will boost business for existing establishments. The town looks to be more welcoming to restaurants, though isn’t wooing straight-out bars (still no pitchers of beer and food must be available at a restaurant’s bar).
The discussion and vote followed discussion and public comments at the previous Select Board meeting a week before.
This isn’t one of those decisions that now needs to go through a string of other approvals either. The updated policy—embedded below—is in effect.
The changes complement other efforts by the town to make itself friendlier to restaurants and diners. During Special Town Meeting in the fall Town Meeting members overwhelmingly voted in favor of rules making it easier for restaurants to offer outdoor dining. During Annual Town meeting this past spring, members voted in favor of allowing establishments with fewer than 50 seats to serve alcoholic beverages.
At the start of the year nearly half of Wellesley’s available alcohol licenses were gathering dust due to lack of interest.
Town policy changes have naturally been encouraged by restaurants and property managers looking to lure more restaurants to town.
Mark Hebert from Linden Square property manager Federal Realty said during the Nov. 15 meeting during which the most recent regulation discussion began (see Wellesley Media recording) that “the proactive approach you’ve taken out of the gate to support restaurants and landlords, I applaud your efforts…Anything that lightens and lessens some of these restrictions with bar seat limitations and Intent to Dine restrictions helps the cause for sure. Restaurants become anchor tenants for us, they become such a significant fabric of what we want to be.” Restaurants have been circling back based on what they’ve been hearing about the town’s direction, he said.
Brad Wasik from The Cheese Shop, which has been in Wellesley Square for about 45 years, said at the Nov. 15 meeting that businesses like his need help, especially with downtown destinations like CVS and Starbucks (at least temporarily) leaving.
“We definitely need help, and that help is just making things easier for any vibrant, fun, up-and-coming hungry business that might be a little bit different than the Wellesley of the past that wants to open,” Wasik said. “Let them do their thing and let the market kind of decide what it wants to happen.”
Wellesley resident Mike Braatz added another perspective on this subject, citing during the Nov. 15 meeting the importance of having a vibrant restaurant scene to attract non-restaurant businesses to locate here. “We all realize that remote work is probably here to stay for good, but we’re also trying to give our employees reasons to come into the office…,'” he said, noting that in an employee poll that having places to socialize with colleagues is a top amenity.
The Select Board has heard the public and hopefully everyone will handle the new rules responsibly. If not, the town can always revisit them, said Select Board member Beth Sullivan Woods, sensing “a little bit of discomfort in going from very controlled to really opening it up.
“We are making in our best judgment what we think are the right changes for the community today. This is something we can adjust, it’s as simple as another review…,” she said.
We appreciate the specific reference to online periodicals in the Application section of the updated policy and the recognition by Select Board members of using online publications like ours to help get the word out about town matters.