Food fight: Restaurants sue Boston over outdoor dining costs

Two women finish their lunch in a dining room set up in what were once parking spaces outside Rabia’s Dolce Fumo restaurant in Boston’s North End neighborhood. The owners of five restaurants, including Rabia’s, said in a lawsuit against Boston Mayor Michelle Wu that the city’s $7,500 fee for neighborhood restaurants to offer outdoor dining this summer is unconstitutional . (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON — The owners of five restaurants in Boston’s North End have said in a lawsuit against Mayor Michelle Wu that the city’s $7,500 fee for neighborhood restaurants to offer outdoor dining this summer is unconstitutional.

The four business owners, in their federal complaint, said the fees — which apply only to restaurants in the traditionally Italian neighborhood that attracts tourists from around the world — create “unfair methods of competition.”

The charges violate restaurant owners’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, as well as their rights under the Commerce Clause, the restaurant owners claim.

The mayor’s office said in a statement that it had no comment. Wu said that because the North End – with its maze of narrow, busy streets – has the highest density of restaurants in the city, the fee is needed to address quality of life issues such as traffic, access pedestrians, garbage collection and rodents. control.

The four owners said they had agreed to pay the conditional fee. One has two establishments.

“If the plaintiffs refused to pay the fees … they would not be allowed to have outdoor dining spaces,” the lawsuit states. “Without al fresco dining, Complainants could not compete with other restaurants in the North End” that cater to tourists.

The city first allowed restaurants to set up outdoor dining areas on sidewalks and city streets two summers ago to help them stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Outdoor dining in the neighborhood resumed on May 1.

The city announced the fees in March, but business owners pushed back, calling them unfair because they didn’t apply to restaurants in other areas of the city.

The city and some restaurateurs announced a compromise in late March that allowed companies to spread fees over several months, and a plan that allows some restaurants to pay reduced fees based on location, room size outdoor dining and whether they have a liquor license.

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