Outdoor dining could soon become a permanent part of New York City. A City Council bill released on Thursday proposed the city create a licensing structure that would allow restaurants to use outdoor dining structures seasonally, from April through November. It has yet to be approved by Council and is expected to be voted on in June, according to the New York Times.
The bill is a version of the original proposal to make outdoor dining permanent, which was stalled in Council more than a year ago. Restaurants would be required to have a license from the city to participate in outdoor dining and fees will be based on location and square footage. Sidewalk seating would be allowed year-round under the proposal, with fees that are lower than similar licenses before the pandemic.
The bill requires restaurants to dismantle streetside outdoor dining structures during winter months — a blow to operators who poured thousands of dollars into setups they imagined as permanent investments. Quality Branded, the group behind Manhattan restaurants Don Angie and Bad Roman, once estimated it had spent close to $1 million on outdoor dining across the company.
Mayor Eric Adams backed the bill in a written statement on Thursday. “With this bill, we will create a permanent, year-round outdoor dining program that will support our small businesses, create jobs for New Yorkers, and keep our streets and communities vibrant,” he said. The city will continue to remove abandoned dining sheds throughout the city, he said.
Outdoor dining started as a temporary emergency measure in June 2020, after the coronavirus shut down restaurants for indoor dining. Since then, it has been extended multiple times in light of its popularity with customers and restaurant operators.
Supporters of the program say it served as a financial lifeline for restaurants at the height of the pandemic and helped bring al fresco dining to more parts of the city. The Bronx now has at least 650 sidewalk cafes, up from 30 before the pandemic, according to one report from the Times.
Its opponents have raised concerns that range from pollution and noise to pedestrian access and parking. In Manhattan, outdoor dining structures became a lightning rod for debates over who has ownership of streets and sidewalks. Protesters filed lawsuits against city officials and flooded community board hearings to make themselves heard.
Open Restaurants lists more than 12,000 participants in the five boroughs, and city officials have claimed that 100,000 jobs were saved as a result of the program.