One Of Pandemic’s Few Good Ideas: Outdoor Dining In NYC To Make Comeback With New Rules

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MAYOR ADAMS TAKES MAJOR STEPS TO ADVANCE ‘DINING OUT NYC,’ NATION’S LARGEST OUTDOOR DINING PROGRAM 

Final Rules Offer Clear Guidance to Restaurant Owners, Expands Access to  Safe, Clean Outdoor Dining in All Five Boroughs

Program Applications to Open in March, First Approved Dining Out NYC Setups Expected to Be On City Streets This Summer

Editor’s Note: Readers may recall a study conducted by NYC DOT that showed outdoor dining saved many restaurants from collapse during the Covid pandemic. 

The study states, “Open Streets corridors provided a vital boost for restaurants and bars, averaging sales 19% above their pre-pandemic baseline, while nearby control corridors were 29% below. Open Streets saw a 10% increase in new businesses during the pandemic, while nearby control corridors saw a 20% contraction.”

Many businesses were also unduly burdened by fines assessed during Covid for a large number of new violations specific to the pandemic. The City offered relief to restaurants and businesses that managed to stay afloat by forgiving many of the fines assessed. From BP Fossella’s statement,  “One of [the restaurant owner’s] concerns is to have a cure period following the issue of some non-emergency and non-life threatening violations….

“[The DOHMH’S new] policy will include cure periods.”

NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, and Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu released the final rules for the city’s permanent outdoor dining program, “Dining Out NYC.” Offering clear guidance for restaurant owners as they work to create new set-ups before the program’s launch in March, the final rules prioritize equity, expanding access to safe, clean outdoor dining in all five boroughs. The rules were finalized following a robust public outreach and engagement campaign, led by DOT and the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS).

Dining Out NYC represents one of the most significant efforts of the last decade to reimagine the city’s streetscape to support all New Yorkers and small restaurants while creating vibrant public spaces that improve quality of life and continue to accelerate the city’s economic recovery. The new program draws on lessons learned from the temporary outdoor dining program created during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saved 100,000 jobs across the city, but led to quality-of-life issues as a subset of restaurant owners were unable to maintain loosely regulated outdoor dining setups.

“Between Dining Out NYC, our campaign to get trash bags off of New York City streets, our efforts to remove scaffolding that has been up for far too long, and the hundreds of millions we’re investing in public realm projects across the city, we’re fundamentally transforming what it feels like to be outside in New York,” said Mayor Adams. “As we build the largest outdoor dining program in the country from the ground-up, we must center our efforts in equity to make sure every New Yorker in every borough and every neighborhood has the opportunity to enjoy our city.”

“The largest outdoor dining program in the country is here,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. “A transformative effort to reimagine our streetscape and support our small businesses at the same time, Dining Out NYC will create inviting, vibrant, attractive, and safe outdoor dining setups that work for restaurants and work for New York City. We can’t wait to see the whole city dining al fresco in style this summer.”

“Outdoor dining has activated our streets, breathing new life into our public spaces and creating lively gathering spaces,” said DOT Commissioner Rodriguez. “Diners can now enjoy the atmosphere of our city while supporting our local small businesses. Through the finalized rules that incorporate community and local businesses feedback, Dining Out NYC will build on the lessons learned during the pandemic to improve safety and quality of life — while still allowing for creative, flexible, and beautiful setups. We look forward to the rollout of New York City’s new and historic permanent outdoor dining program.”

 

“Outdoor dining saved nearly 100,000 jobs during the peak of the pandemic, and fundamentally changed the way we view our city streets,” said SBS Commissioner Kevin D. Kim. “Since then, we’ve created best practices from real-world experiences, and are now ready to make the outdoor dining revolution permanent. SBS is eager to work alongside our partners at DOT to ensure that Dining Out NYC creates the largest — and greatest — outdoor dining scene in the world.”

 

“This administration has found a way to continue outdoor dining in New York City while prioritizing cleanliness,” said New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch. “Under these rules, New Yorkers will be asking for a table, and the rats will be saying, ‘Check please!’”

“Outdoor dining was a lifeline during the pandemic, creating hope for the future of the city when it wasn’t always so easy to come by,” said Chief Public Realm Officer Liu. “Now it’s time for the program to mature; these new ‘rules of the road’ will help solidify outdoor dining as a permanent part of our landscape, while banishing many of the negatives. Restaurant owners, it’s your turn! Please sign up! Help us beautify outdoor dining for everyone who lives and works in this spectacular city.”

“Once again, New York City is showing its commitment to making spaces more hospitable to humans and less hospitable to rats,” said Director of Citywide Rodent Mitigation Kathy Corradi. “The Dining Out NYC program incorporates both the design and management elements that support a rat-free outdoor dining program. Congratulations to DOT, the Public Realm team, and all New Yorkers.”


“Dining Out NYC demonstrates the Adams administration’s significant efforts to revitalize the city’s streetscape, and do so safely and responsibly,” said “New” New York Executive Director B.J. Jones. “This initiative will make this great city even more welcoming across the five boroughs as people live, work, play — and dine here!”

Today’s released final rules outline requirements for a safe, clean outdoor dining program, while providing restaurant owners with the flexibility to develop creative outdoor dining setups that are appropriate for their establishments.

Final program rules include clear design requirements; siting criteria on where outdoor dining setups can be located in relation to other street features, like subway entrances, fire hydrants, and more; and the types of materials that can be used in outdoor setups.

They also require that the setups preserve clear sidewalk paths and emergency roadway lanes — including water-filled, rat-resistant protective barriers for roadway setups —– and use easily moveable furniture and coverings. Ultimately, the final rules will create a lighter-weight outdoor dining experience with lines of sight, as compared to the fully-enclosed shacks of the temporary, COVID-19-era program.

Before 2020, outdoor dining in New York City was permitted exclusively on the sidewalk, and almost only within Manhattan. Under Dining Out NYC, outdoor dining will be expanded citywide, permitted year-round on the sidewalk and, from April 1st to November 29th, in the roadway. The new program creates an equitable, accessible fee structure for participating restaurants, with rates varying by location and setup size as codified by local law, and with significantly lower fees than those under the previous sidewalk café program.

In the pre-pandemic program, run by the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, sidewalk cafés south of 96th Street in Manhattan paid $40 per square foot, while the rest of the city paid $30. The new program expands eligibility to more parts of the city and significantly reduces fees for cafes everywhere, with cafes outside Manhattan and above 125th Street paying 67 to 80 percent less, and cafes below 125th Street in Manhattan paying 22 to 75 percent less.

With the rules now finalized, in March, DOT will launch a streamlined online application portal where restaurants can apply to participate in Dining Out NYC. A restaurant’s outdoor dining setup will need to comply with the program’s design requirements within 30 days of their application approval.

On this timeline, the first approved Dining Out NYC setups will hit New York City streets in the summer of 2024. DOT will notify all restaurants now participating in the temporary program to submit applications for the permanent program through an extensive in-person and digital outreach campaign. Restaurants that did not participate in the temporary Open Restaurants Program are also welcome to apply for Dining Out NYC.

“Outdoor dining saved thousands of restaurants and 100,000 jobs during the pandemic, while creating a more social and economically vibrant streetscape,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director, and Robert Bookman, counsel, New York City Hospitality Alliance. “It’s been a long road, with lots of consideration and compromise by many stakeholders to develop a more standardized and sustainable outdoor dining system. We now look forward to working with the city of New York and restaurants across the five boroughs as they transition from the pandemic-era Open Restaurants program into the new Dining Out NYC alfresco system.”

“After several years under a temporary program, New Yorkers finally have rules to govern the future of outdoor dining,” said Maulin Mehta, New York director, Regional Plan Association. “The new program balances business and community needs to improve our streets and give all neighborhoods an opportunity to enjoy alfresco dining. We are excited for this evolution in our streets and congratulate Mayor Adams, Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu, Commissioner Rodriguez, NYC Council, and all the city staff, advocates and business leaders that helped make this program a reality.”

“Today, with the release of these highly anticipated rules, New York City takes a monumental step towards reclaiming its streets and reimagining the possibilities of our public spaces,” said Jesse Lazar, associate executive director, American Institute of Architects New York. “For years now, we championed a permanent outdoor dining program, envisioning a city where vibrant structures replace parking lanes, where the hum of conversation mingles with the sounds of the city, and where greater access to businesses is made available to New Yorkers of all abilities. We thank Mayor Adams and Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu for their leadership on this program, as well as Commissioner Rodriguez, the New York City Council, and all the staff, business leaders, and advocates that helped bring this program to fruition.”

“New Yorkers love curbside dining! Now, with these rules, the already popular program can grow into an equitable and well-managed fixture of New York City culture,” said Jackson Chabot, director of advocacy and organizing, Open Plans. “This is the future Open Plans is working towards — where the curblane is part of dynamic, accessible public space for eating, drinking, meeting friends, and doing business. We thank Mayor Adams and Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu for their leadership, and congratulate Commissioner Rodriguez, the New York City Council, fellow advocates, and everyday New Yorkers on this latest step toward reimagining our streets for everyone, everyday.”

“We are thrilled to have a permanent outdoor dining program in place; this framework will ensure the long-term growth of dining establishments which are crucial to neighborhood economies throughout the five boroughs,” said Tim Laughlin, president, Lower East Side Partnership. “Instituting a more coordinated approach to use of the roadway will ensure positive amenities for merchants, residents, and tourists alike.”

“The outdoor dining program put parking to a higher purpose, saving 100,000 jobs in the process and inviting New Yorkers into our largest public space — our streets,” said Danny Harris, executive director, Transportation Alternatives. “We’re excited to see the temporary program become a permanent part of New York City’s landscape. As the program continues to serve our city and support our small businesses, we’ll keep fighting for a full, year-round program in all five boroughs.”

“Outdoor dining provides an even greater opportunity for everyone to enjoy Downtown Brooklyn’s wide range of culinary options while also enjoying our dynamic neighborhood,” said Regina Myer, president, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Dining Out NYC provides clear guidelines for our local eateries to develop their outdoor offerings and create a clean, safe environment for patrons to enjoy their food. We look forward to Dining Out in NYC!”

“The much-anticipated final rules for Dining Out NYC solidifies New York’s commitment to revitalizing our public spaces, supporting our vital restaurant industry, and ensuring accessibility for all,” said the Alliance for Public Space Leadership.

“Continuing to prioritize clear guidance and community engagement is crucial for this program’s growth and success, and the Alliance for Public Space Leadership will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure those goals are met. We’re confident that Dining Out NYC will create vibrant, inviting outdoor dining experiences that benefit both businesses and residents, fostering a more prosperous and inclusive city for everyone. We thank Mayor Adams, the City Council, Commissioner Rodriguez, and particularly New York Public Realm Officer, Ya-Ting Liu, for their continued leadership for this incredible program.”

Banner Image: Outdoor dining in Flatiron. Image Credit – Caleb Wright


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