Outdoor dining will be a permanent, year-round feature for New York City restaurants, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday. The city’s popular “Open Restaurants” program, which launched in June and allows restaurants to set up outdoor seating on sidewalks, patios, and on some streets closed to cars on weekends, was set to expire on October 31. During his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio said the program will be “part of the life of the city for years to come.” The “Open Streets: Restaurants” program, which has closed roughly 87 streets to traffic for car-free dining on weekends, will also be made permanent, the mayor said.
The news comes just a few days after the City Council said it will hear legislation on permanent outdoor dining next week, sponsored by Council Members Keith Powers, Antonio Reynoso, Mark Levine, and others. Industry leaders and restaurant owners have pushed for City Hall to allow for year-round outdoor dining and for more guidance on how it will look.
“Outdoor dining has been one of the major successes of the past few months, and the Council is proud to have led the charge to make this common-sense measure permanent,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted on Friday. “We are grateful Mayor de Blasio heard our calls and is taking action on this important issue.”
A major component of the new policy allows both propane heaters (which are currently banned in the city) and natural gas heaters to be used on the sidewalks. Electrical heaters will be allowed to be used on both the sidewalk and streets.
According to the NYC Hospitality Alliance, restaurants will also be able to use tent enclosures to keep diners warm. Restaurants with partial tent enclosures must have at least 50 percent of the tent’s side wall open, with electrical heaters allowed. For full tent enclosures, the side walls can be closed but capacity will be capped at 25 percent, with the regulations of indoor dining applied.
“Outdoor dining has transformed New York City’s streetscape for the better and has been a critical lifeline for thousands of small businesses and jobs throughout the five boroughs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, and Robert Bookman, counsel for the Alliance, said in a joint statement.
“Today’s announcement to make outdoor dining permanent, to allow the use of heat lamps to keep customers warm outside during the cooler months, and to allow restaurants to utilize adjacent space where feasible so they can accommodate more guests and generate much needed revenue is a major step to rebuilding a stronger, more resilient and livable city.”
Originally scheduled to end Labor Day weekend, de Blasio first extended Open Restaurants until October 31, along with the promise of resuming open restaurants next June. Restaurants can open for indoor dining in the city starting September 30 at 25 percent capacity and with other COVID-19 regulations in place.
Allowing for restaurants to continue to safely serve diners outside will provide some financial relief to the roughly 10,000 establishments that participated in the program since it launched. The pandemic has forced thousands of small businesses to close with about 150,000 restaurant workers out of jobs, according to the NYC Hospitality Alliance. A report from the group on Monday found that in a survey of more than 450 NYC restaurants, about 87 percent could not pay full rent in August and 34 percent were unable to pay at all.
The Open Streets: Restaurants program, which now includes 87 streets and nine pedestrian plazas designated for outdoor dining on weekends, will also be made permanent. The open street restaurants can operate from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday nights and noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays. Find an open street near you here.
- New York City will open indoor dining on September 30
- Hoboken releases plan to extend outdoor dining through the winter
- De Blasio says outdoor dining will return to NYC next summer
Editor’s note 9/25/20: This story was originally published on September 23, 2020, and has since been updated to include the mayor’s announcement about year-round outdoor dining.