Patrons enjoy a meal while outdoor dining.
File photo by Dean Moses
Mayor Eric Adams on Friday announced the finalized rules for the city’s outdoor dining program, giving much-needed clarity to local restaurant owners and Big Apple food lovers alike.
While the city allowed restaurants to provide outdoor seating during the pandemic, those virus-induced permissions were only temporary and left restaurateurs in a state of flux about the future until the City Council voted last year to establish a permanent outdoor dining program.
After that vote, the Adams administration embarked on a “robust” public outreach campaign to determine finalized rules for restaurants looking to seat patrons outside.
The result of that process is the “Dining Out NYC” program, which will allow for 12 months of sidewalk dining, and permit seating on the roadway between April and the end of November, provided the outdoor dining structures meet a list of criteria designed to promote cleanliness and safety.
“We’re fundamentally transforming what it feels like to be outside in New York,” said Adams.
Among the biggest changes in the finalized rules of the program is the elimination of enclosed sidewalk sheds — mandating that all structures for outdoor dining use open-air frameworks that are more easily moveable.
The structures will also need to be wheelchair accessible, include drainage systems to prevent water from pooling on the ground, and provide rat-resistant barriers.
In addition, the rules set forth clearer guidelines on where seating can be located in relation to other outdoor structures like subway entrances and fire hydrants.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, whose agency will oversee the outdoor dining program, hailed the new rules as a way to create “lively gathering spaces” while limiting the potential negative impacts of serving restaurant patrons on sidewalks and curbsides.
“Outdoor dining has activated our streets, breathing new life into our public spaces and creating lively gathering spaces,” said Rodriguez. “Diners can now enjoy the atmosphere of our city while supporting our local small businesses. Through the finalized rules that incorporate community and local businesses feedback, Dining Out NYC will build on the lessons learned during the pandemic to improve safety and quality of life — while still allowing for creative, flexible, and beautiful setups. We look forward to the rollout of New York City’s new and historic permanent outdoor dining program.”
Local restaurants, which were given blanket approval to erect outdoor dining structures with limited oversight regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, will now have to apply with the city to get permission to do so — allowing regulators to ensure they are in compliance with the new rules.
Those applications will open on March 3, and the city expects that most restaurants will be given the green-light before the summertime.
“Outdoor dining was a lifeline during the pandemic, creating hope for the future of the city when it wasn’t always so easy to come by,” said Ya-Ting Liu, the city’s Chief Public Realm Officer. “Now it’s time for the program to mature; these new ‘rules of the road’ will help solidify outdoor dining as a permanent part of our landscape, while banishing many of the negatives.”