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City Council Speaker Signals a Serious Outdoor Dining Plan Is in the Works for NYC

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Proponents of the initiative are looking towards FiDi’s Stone Street as an example to expand on

Covered picnic benches and chairs set up on Stone Street in lower Manhattan
Outdoor seating on Stone Street
Stone Street Entertainment [Official]
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

New York City Council is focusing in on how make outdoor dining a reality for restaurants and bars this summer.

In a joint op-ed published in Crain’s New York on Monday, City Council speaker Corey Johnson and NYC Hospitality Alliance executive director Andrew Rigie said that both groups were reaching out to restaurant owners, business improvement districts, and neighborhood community boards to “identify criteria and potential areas” where the city could test outdoor dining options.

Rigie and Johnson called out Stone Street in FiDi in the op-ed as a potential example to model what outdoor dining could look like across the city this summer. Restaurants and bars located on the historic street share outdoor seating, and the space is built to encourage diners to walk freely along the open area, which is closed off to cars.

The city has imposed a ban on dining in at restaurants and bars since mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19. Takeout and delivery are still an option; restaurants in favor of allowing outdoor dining say that it will help businesses generate more sales while maintaining current social distancing rules between customers.

“We know this is not a long-term fix, but a good first step to help restaurants while reimagining our outdoor space,” Rigie and Johnson write in the op-ed.

NYC is still at least a month away from allowing restaurants and bars to reopen with dine-in service. When the reopening happens, it will likely come with heavy restrictions around indoor capacity to protect customers from potential exposure to the virus.

When reached for further comment, Rigie declined to share details around outdoor dining discussions so far. “We are in the process of soliciting feedback,” Rigie tells Eater.

Eater has reached out to City Council speaker Corey Johnson’s office for more information.

In recent daily press conferences, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that outdoor dining plans are being “very thoroughly discussed” with the city’s small business community, but firm plans haven’t shaped up yet.

“The streets certainly offer a very appealing option, but that doesn’t automatically solve our problems in terms of when you think about the social distancing, the capacity, making sure that people are safe and it’s handled consistently,” de Blasio said in a press conference on May 14. “Even the streets don’t instantly achieve all of those goals. So, we have to be smart about it.”

Even without an official outdoor dining plan in place, that hasn’t stopped New Yorkers from congregating outside neighborhood bars and restaurants while the weather warms up. Over the past weekend, groups lingered in front of to-go counters at bars and restaurants across lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, sometimes causing what appeared to be violations of the city’s social distancing mandates.