With more New Yorkers crowding outside bars and restaurants over the past couple of weekends, there are growing calls from both restaurateurs and City Council members for the mayor and the governor to urgently address the need for more outdoor dining in the city.
While restaurants are unlikely to reopen in any capacity beyond takeout and delivery till July at the earliest, restaurateurs and other city officials say it’s critical that they get time to prepare as New Yorkers start going out more. Outdoor dining will be vital to help restaurants stay afloat considering that dining rooms will likely open at a reduced capacity, owners say.
On Wednesday, City Council member Keith Powers, who represents several neighborhoods on the east side of Manhattan, released a letter addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking that the city consider allowing restaurant seating on streets that are currently being closed to allow for more social distancing for pedestrians. It was co-signed by 23 other City Council members.
“New York City faces urgent crises on many fronts — but we must make sure that our bars and restaurants are able to survive and recover,” part of the letter reads.
The letter points to other cities across the country and the world that have adopted or are looking to implement measures for outdoor dining, including Boston, Tampa, Berkley, and perhaps most notably Vilnius, in Lithuania, which has opened wide swathes of its streets for restaurants.
Connecticut allowed restaurants to open for outdoor dining this week, an addition to delivery and takeout. But at a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that New York isn’t in the same position, even though the state is coordinating reopening efforts with nearby states.
“Connecticut has a different situation in terms of density,” Cuomo said. “Their reality is a different reality.” Cuomo once again stressed that the city would reopen based on the up-to-date data and science, and when it meets the criteria set out for all the regions in the state.
Still, that hasn’t stopped New Yorkers from congregating outside. As temperatures rose last weekend, locals clustered around bars and restaurants on sidewalks and in nearby parks — some of them social distancing, and others less so.
Restaurateurs say the government needs to put in some formal measures for outdoor dining as the city heads into Memorial Day weekend. In a recently released short film, top NYC restaurateurs like Roni Mazumdar from Adda and Rahi, and Jody Williams of Buvette and Via Carota stressed the urgency. “We are running out of time,” Serge Becker, the restaurateur behind Miss Lily’s, says in the short film. “This has to happen now.”
The call from City Council members to open up streets for dining follows shortly after Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer asked for the city to expand the existing Seat Streets program. That program allows ground floor businesses with street access to create outdoor seating between the months of March and December. Yet approvals for that often take months and the program itself has several restrictions — Brewer has called for a significant easing of those rules.
Earlier this week, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced in an op-ed along with Andrew Rigie — the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which represents thousands of restaurants in the city — that both groups were actively in discussions with business improvement districts, restaurant owners, and community boards to identify streets that would work for outdoor dining. They pointed to Stone Street in FiDi as a model for what that could look like.
While the mayor and the governor have both previously expressed support for increased outdoor dining, neither has presented a concrete proposal for what that might look like or when it will be implemented.
Eater has reached out to both the mayor’s and governor’s offices for more details.