Before Tuesday, restaurants in Eau Claire could get sidewalk cafe permits and expand their alcohol service seasonally to the sidewalks as well.
After a city council vote, it will be easier and faster for many restaurants to get these permits if they want.
Since 1994, the Acoustic Cafe in downtown Eau Claire has offered outdoor seating.
Employees say customers are taking more advantage of the outside seating ever since the restaurant expanded its service back from only curbside pickup in the last few weeks.
“I would say it’s probably like 50-50 people want to sit outside, as long as it’s not super hot and muggy. I really just think people like the option, they always have but especially with COVID going on, I think it’s a really, really good option to have for people so they can feel safer,” said Acoustic Cafe General Manager Morgan Hines-Munson.
Tuesday, the Eau Claire City Council looked an existing ordinance allowing sidewalk cafes under certain circumstances, and expanded it.
“Not only what’s happening right now with the pandemic, but opportunities beyond that for restaurants and like minded businesses to be able to expand outside I think it’s important. It creates a good culture too, people being outdoors and sort of experiencing our community in a different way,” said Eau Claire City Council Member Andrew Werthmann.
The council voted unanimously to amend the ordinance, expanding outdoor seating space with neighbors approval, accelerating administrative review and approval for most applicants.
But there are still some requirements.
“We did specify the six feet of social distancing requirement, we also specified that four feet must be maintained for pedestrian traffic. All of these elements have to be identified within their site plan and have to be submitted with the application,” said Economic Development Manager Aaron White.
The change affects businesses in downtown Eau Claire and on Water Street.
Hines-Munson believes opening more sidewalk cafes is a great idea, as long as people can still walk in the area.
“Make sure that you’re keeping an eye on the people that are sitting outside. It’s kind of easy to get lost and lose track of people but just make sure that everyone isn’t moving tables out into the sidewalks so people can’t walk through. And then also just making sure you’re not losing your dishes and cutlery, that sort of stuff,” she said.
All the sidewalk cafe permits submitted by restaurants will be reviewed by the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, City Fire and Building inspectors.
Those outdoor venues are not allowed to operate between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.