Permanent outdoor dining in NYC takes major step forward

May 19, 2023

Nomad’s Pecora Biana on Broadway in June 2020. Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr cc

The New York City Council and Mayor Eric Adams reached a deal this week on legislation that would make the pandemic-era outdoor dining program a permanent fixture of city life. The Open Restaurants program launched in 2020 as a lifeline for city businesses and as a way for New Yorkers to gather safely. After over a year of debate over a permanent program, the Council introduced a bill on Thursday permitting outdoor dining structures, or “streeteries,” on city streets, but only for eight months of the year. So-called “sidewalk cafes” would be allowed year-round. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Council next month.

The legislation aims to rein in the Open Restaurants program, which launched in 2020 as a temporary measure and at one point had roughly 12,000 restaurants participating. While the permanent bill will add new rules and requirements for restaurants, more businesses will be allowed to offer outdoor dining than before the pandemic.

Under the bill, dining structures on city streets will be prohibited between November 30 and March 31. The current program does not have any seasonal restrictions. Dining set-ups on sidewalks will be allowed all year. According to the legislation, restaurants can operate outdoor dining from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Restaurants will pay separate fees for a sidewalk cafe license and a roadway cafe license, according to the bill. Both licenses, which cover a period of four years, will cost $1,050. Restaurants would also be required to pay concert fees based on the square footage of the roadway cafe; those located south of 125th Street in Manhattan will pay more than restaurants in other parts of the city.

Another new rule introduced in the legislation requires restaurants located in historic districts or on a landmarked site to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission before seeking a license for a sidewalk cafe or roadway cafe.

Adams celebrated the agreement, while also noting the problem of abandoned dining sheds “that have become havens for rats and eyesores for New Yorkers.” Last summer, the mayor launched an initiative to find deserted streeteries and remove them.

“Today, we are one big step closer to delivering it,” Adams said in a statement, referring to the permanent program. “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.”

The Department of Transportation will continue to oversee the program. Prior to 2020, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection managed the sidewalk cafe licensing.

“We’re thrilled the mayor and the city council have agreed to terms for an historic permanent outdoor dining program that includes sidewalk cafes and streeteries,” Andrew Rigie, executive director, and Rob Bookman, counsel, of the NYC Hospitality Alliance said in a statement.

“The new law will cut the red tape and fees for restaurants to participate when compared to the overly restrictive pre-pandemic sidewalk cafe license, which excluded many restaurants throughout the five boroughs from offering al fresco dining. We look forward to working through the additional details of the program with the city to address issues that are important to restaurants and the communities they serve, but in the meantime, New Yorkers should go out and celebrate with a meal at an outdoor cafe!”


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