Outdoor dining, the pandemic-era program that changed the face of this city’s streets, will be allowed from April to November. City Council approved a bill on Thursday that would allow restaurants to continue serving customers outdoors, except in the winter. The New York Times first reported news of the vote.
“The new law will cut the red tape and fees for restaurants to participate when compared to the overly restrictive pre-pandemic sidewalk café licenses, which excluded so many restaurants throughout the five boroughs from offering al fresco dining,” Andrew Rigie of NYC Hospitality Alliance said on Instagram. “We look forward to Mayor Adams’ signing this legislation into law and working with the Department of Transportation on the design guidelines and additional details to address issues that are important to restaurants and the communities they serve.”
The bill has a few key differences from the city’s temporary Open Restaurants program. Restaurant owners would be required to dismantle their outdoor structures each year from November 30 to March 31, a blow to operators who invested in outdoor setups to attract customers and adhere to city regulations during the pandemic. Sidewalk cafes would be allowed year-round.
Under the bill, restaurants could serve customers outdoors from 10 a.m. until midnight. To participate in outdoor dining, operators would require a license from the city and would need to pay a fee based on their restaurant’s location and square footage. The fees are higher for Manhattan restaurants below 125th Street.
Now that the bill has been approved by City Council, it heads to Mayor Eric Adams, an outspoken supporter of outdoor dining. He is expected to sign the bill into law.
Outdoor dining started as a temporary measure in June 2020, when restaurants were closed to indoor customers during the pandemic. Since then, it has been extended multiple times due to its popularity with customers and restaurant operators. The city estimates that 100,000 jobs were saved as a result of the program.
Supporters of the program say it served as a financial lifeline for restaurants at the height of the pandemic and helped bring outdoor dining to more parts of the city. Before the pandemic, around 1,400 restaurants had licenses to operate sidewalk cafes. At its peak, more than 12,000 businesses participated in Open Restaurants.
Opponents of outdoor dining have raised concerns that range from pollution and noise to sidewalk 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 the city and flooded community board hearings to make themselves heard.
Update: August 3 at 3:55 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the City Council vote.