Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that outdoor dining, which has become a major lifeline for the restaurant industry during the pandemic, will become “permanent and year-round.”
“I want us to go for the gold here, and take this model and make it a part of the life of New York City for years and generations to come,” de Blasio said while making the announcement on The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday. “This will make it a lot easier for restaurants to survive.”
Restaurants will be allowed to expand into sidewalk and curbside spaces in front of adjacent storefronts if the other business agrees to it (as long as they commit not to charge a fee for its use). Restaurants will also be allowed to enclose their outdoor spaces with tents; if it’s a full tent enclosure, they will have to follow indoor dining restrictions and keep to 25% capacity (though that number may go up later). If at least 50% of the tent’s side wall surface area remains open, outdoor dining rules apply. Enclosed structures like plastic domes that allow for individuals or groups to dine together will also be allowed.
Electrical heaters will be allowed on both sidewalk and roadway, and in both tented and partially-tented setups. Propane and natural gas heaters will be allowed on sidewalks only; they will remain prohibited in roadway seating. The inclusion of propane heaters, which were previously only legal for home use, was a major question looming over whether restaurants could realistically continue serving outdoors in winter. Experts say they are far more accessible and affordable for businesses than hard line natural gas.
The city noted in a press release that “propane will require a permit from FDNY and compliance with FDNY regulations for outdoor use, handling and secure outdoor tank storage overnight. Official guidance on what will be considered approved installation and use of heating elements will be released before the end of September, and restaurants are prohibited from installing heating elements until guidelines are released and followed.”
In addition, the mayor said the combination Open Restaurants/Open Street locations will be made permanent. There are over 87 participating Open Restaurant streets altogether across the five boroughs; last week, the city announced that 40 of these locations would get expanded weekday hours for the first time. Altogether, there are 10,355 restaurants currently utilizing outdoor spaces around the five boroughs for dining.
The outdoor dining program was set to end on October 31st, but restaurateurs and industry experts have been advocating for it to be made permanent for weeks now. A number of elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Senator Jessica Ramos, have been calling for legislation to do that this week as well.
“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,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “We are grateful Mayor de Blasio heard our calls and is taking action on this important issue. Lots of cities throughout the world have permanent outdoor dining, and it is time to bring it to New York City. Our restaurants need a lot of help and the Council will continue doing all we can to support them.”
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance who has been advocating for the continuance of the outdoor dining program, said in a statement, “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. 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.”
Indoor dining is set to return to NYC at 25% capacity and with other social distancing guidelines starting next week, on September 30th. The mayor was asked whether the COVID uptick in certain parts of the city could put that plan on pause, and he noted that they were monitoring the infection rate closely but nothing had changed in that regard yet.
“Our overall framework is holding and working, we’re going to watch carefully as schools reopen and people go back to work,” he said, “but right now, overall, the city is doing very well.”