On September 25, as part of New York City’s Recovery Agenda, Mayor de Blasio announced that the City’s popular Open Restaurants program, which was launched in June and has since enrolled more than 10,300 establishments, will be extended year-round and made permanent. The extension also applies to Open Streets: Restaurants, which currently offers restaurants expanded space on 85 car-free streets citywide on certain days. While a depressingly large number of restaurants have been shuttered permanently by the pandemic’s financial shockwave, the Open Restaurants program is estimated to have saved an estimated 90,000 jobs citywide.
According to Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin, "The Open Restaurants program has changed New York City's streetscape over these last several months, and now this Administration will work to make that permanent. The program has helped save tens of thousands of jobs and has been an essential lifeline to an industry that has faced enormous hardships during this pandemic. And as we extend outdoor dining into the winter months, we will work closely with restaurants to ensure the correct heating systems are put in place to keep customers and themselves safe.”
“Because this popular program has developed into one of the few bright spots in the pandemic, we are excited that Open Restaurants, a creative new vision of public space, will be made permanent and year-round,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “As we move into the colder months, we will join our sister agencies and the City Council to come up with clear guidance – working closely with the restaurant industry, continuing to make sure that we are of course driven by safety first.”
Warm & Dry
According to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson “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. 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.”
"I'm glad that the Mayor has agreed to extend outdoor dining," adds Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "Now, we need to address permitting processes and other details, but it's in everyone's interest to make this work. It offers desperately-needed help to the city's struggling restaurants.”
To that end, administrative and logistical aspects of extending the program include securing the blessing of properties adjacent to outdoor dining areas that would be affected by foot traffic and seating enclosures, drafting and appropriately filing formalized agreements and making sure any heating equipment is safe and code-compliant. Here are a few of the considerations the expanded, extended program will take into account:
According to a press release from the Mayor’s Office, the City will allow restaurants to expand seating to the frontage of adjacent properties, as long as the adjacent property owners formally agree to the use of the space for a specified period of time and commit not to charge a fee for its use. “The City will work with the State Liquor Authority on any requirements associated with extending alcohol service to the expanded seating in front of adjacent properties. In early October, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) will issue a template agreement and provide instructions on how to file the agreements. Adjacent properties may not be used prior to the release of official instructions and formal agreements.”
With cooler weather imminent, heating outdoor dining areas safely is a top concern. According to the Mayor’s office, “Electrical heaters will be allowed on both sidewalk and roadway. Propane and natural gas heaters will be allowed on sidewalks only; they will remain prohibited in roadway seating. 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.”
Given the often-rainy nature of late fall in our area, shelter from precipitation is the next biggest concern after heating when it comes to dining outdoors; the City’s Open Restaurants expansion addresses this as well. According to the September 25 press release, “Restaurants will also be permitted to use tent enclosures to keep diners warm. In partial tent enclosures, at least 50% of the tent’s side wall surface area must remain open, and electrical heaters are allowed. In full tent enclosures, the tent’s side walls may be closed, but occupancy limitations will be capped at 25% of capacity, and indoor dining guidelines must be followed; electrical heaters will also be allowed. Enclosed structures, such as plastic domes, will be allowed for individual parties and must have adequate ventilation to allow for air circulation.”
One of the often-heard concerns when outdoor seating areas first began appearing this summer was how to avoid mishaps between diners trying to eat and cars trying to navigate city streets - now made narrower by restaurant enclosures protruding out into the roadway. According to the Mayor’s press release, “[As] winter weather creates potential for inclement weather to impact road conditions, the City will engage the restaurant industry and other stakeholders to develop additional safety features to further strengthen roadway barriers. To ensure timely implementation, the City will require restaurant owners to comply with new safety features by November 15, 2020. In addition, significant snow events may necessitate the temporary removal of some barriers from the roadway."
Council Member Ben Kallos summed up what many city-dwellers think of the new street scene that has evolved out of a very bleak time for the Big Apple; "New Yorkers know a great idea when they see one,” he says. “Outdoor dining has helped save tens of thousands of jobs all while keeping the City open for business, and we cannot let colder temperatures bring that to an end."