Outdoor Dining in New York City Is Here to Stay. (Just Not in Winter.)
New York City’s outdoor dining program, a popular pandemic-era measure designed to be a temporary salve for a devastated restaurant industry, is about to become a permanent part of the city’s landscape.
A City Council bill, released on Thursday evening, called for creating a licensing structure that would allow outdoor dining structures to exist in roadways, but only from April through November. Sidewalk cafes would be allowed year-round.
The bill, which is supported by Mayor Eric Adams and still requires the approval of the full Council, aims to strike a balance between retaining a mostly popular program while taking steps to control its outgrowth.
Mr. Adams, a Democrat in his second year in office, said in a statement that outdoor dining had helped restaurants and workers stay afloat at the height of the pandemic and was “here to stay.” But he also said that it had “left hundreds of abandoned sheds on our streets that have become havens for rats and eyesores for New Yorkers.”
“With this bill, we will create a permanent, year-round outdoor dining program that will support our small businesses, create jobs for New Yorkers, and keep our streets and communities vibrant,” he said.
The bill would set forth basic design guidelines that are still to be determined. Some elements of the plan drew immediate criticism, including a provision requiring restaurants in a historic district or at a landmark site to receive approval by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for an outdoor dining site — a policy that could affect restaurant-heavy neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Why It Matters
Restaurant owners and diners had been waiting for guidance about what outdoor dining would look like in the future.
The new rules are likely to reduce the current footprint of outdoor dining, which soared to include more than 12,000 restaurants since early in the pandemic. But it is expected to allow for far more outdoor dining options than were in place before 2020.
Restaurants will be required to have a license from the city to offer outdoor dining and to pay fees based on their location and square footage, with higher fees in Manhattan south of 125th Street.
A spokeswoman for the City Council speaker, Adrienne Adams, said in a statement on Thursday that it was important for the outdoor dining program to be “affordable, equitable and successful” and available in every borough.
Sara Lind, an executive director at Open Plans, a livable streets group, said that she was “relieved and pleased” that the program would become permanent, saying that “New York City’s outdoor dining culture has quickly become a fixture of modern city life.” But she lamented that outdoor dining in roadways would not be available during the winter.
During the height of the pandemic, the city allowed restaurants to open dining sheds in the streets under an emergency order.
Outdoor dining flourished, and many New Yorkers have come to prefer dining al fresco for the atmosphere and as a precaution to avoid getting Covid-19. But the quality of the structures has varied, and some residents have complained bitterly over the loss of parking spots.
The Transportation Department will oversee the permanent outdoor dining program. Restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining from 10 a.m. until midnight, according to the bill.
Sidewalk cafes are regulated separately from roadway cafes. City officials are hoping to expand sidewalk cafes, which were mostly located in Manhattan before the pandemic, and to lower the fees restaurants that operate them have to pay.
The City Council is expected to vote on the bill in June.
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