How many times have you shown up at your favorite restaurant or the hot new spot only to find a long wait. You look around and wonder “There’s plenty of space. Why don’t they have more seats?”
Where Rox Diner currently sits in Newtonville was formerly a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is my understanding this restaurant was the impetus in the 70’s for Newton to change our restaurant seating requirements from being square footage based to parking based in an effort to keep fast-food out to preserve the character of our villages. It appears to have worked as that was one of the few joints in the City. That seating requirement is still in place today. The mystifying formula takes seats away if there is not dedicated parking and only through a cumbersome, expensive and uncertain special permit process can seats be returned, but often not at the level that is allowed by state fire code.
About a year ago I compiled data from restaurant listing across the area, comparing seats per square foot in Newton to surrounded areas including Arlington, Boston, Brighton, Brookline, Cambridge, JP, Somerville, Waltham, Watertown & Wellesley. The data included 28 non-Newton establishments and 13 Newton based. The findings:
Outside Newton averaged 30 square feet per seat versus 82 SF/seat for Newton
The lowest ratios outside were 16 SF/seat (Somerville) followed by 2 at 18 SF/seat – Newton’s best were 40, 43 and 56 (note that Newton’s most liberal seating is higher than the average of neighbors)
The highest ratios outside 56, 51, 50 (all less than Newton’s average and just slightly above Newton’s best) – Newton had 4 sites that topped 100 SF/seat.
Given today’s current environment, are the current requirements still valid or do they need updating?