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Reimagining Outdoor Space for New Yorkers and Small Businesses

With indoor dining prohibited during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring, New York City restaurants faced an unprecedented challenge: how to keep their businesses open while ensuring the safety of their customers and staff. For many of these restaurants, the solution came in June with the City’s temporary emergency Open Restaurants program. The program is part of an effort to make New York City the world’s capital for healthy outdoor living in furtherance of the mayor’s recovery strategy, StrongerNYC: The Road to a Healthier, Fairer City. Open Restaurants allows restaurants to adapt city streets and sidewalks to serve New Yorkers in the relative safety of open air. Since June, the program has proven a success—enrolling 10,300 restaurants, helping save 90,000 restaurant jobs, and enabling New Yorkers to continue dining out without risking their health.

The Need for Extending Open Restaurants

With the approach of colder weather and with limited indoor capacity, after October 31, the program’s original end date, restaurants would have been left without a vital source of revenue—putting their survival and the livelihoods of their staff at greater risk. For this reason, extending the current Open Restaurants program into the winter—with modifications—is imperative for the health of the industry, its workers, and customers.

Open Restaurants, Year-Round

Additionally, the success of the temporary emergency Open Restaurants program has made a strong case for a more permanent revision of the current sidewalk and roadway permitting process for restaurants.

Prior to COVID-19, the city had approximately 900 sidewalk cafes and approximately 25 roadway seats, which were approved on a site-by-site, highly discretionary café review program. By contrast, the Open Restaurants program, which allows restaurants to self-certify compliance against straightforward and transparent rules, has helped over 10,000 restaurants stay afloat during the most challenging period the industry has faced. by the federal government and other states and cities.

The program is part of an effort to make New York City the world’s capital for healthy outdoor living in furtherance of the mayor’s recovery strategy, StrongerNYC: The Road to a Healthier, Fairer City.

Open Restaurants, Year-Round

In the near term, the City will extend the temporary Open Restaurants program through the winter and spring, with modified rules to allow for safe operation during cold weather and snow removal periods. This will allow for continuous operation of the Open Restaurants program through the end of next summer.

As part of the program, restaurants will be able to:

  • Follow existing Open Restaurants sidewalk and roadway seating policies (further guidance to come on additional roadway safety features and processes associated with inclement weather and major snow events)
  • Expand sidewalk and roadway seating in frontages adjacent to their property, subject to the permission of the adjacent property owners to allow use of the space for no fee and for a specified period
  • Expand options for outdoor heating, with electrical heating being allowed in both sidewalk and roadway dining areas, and propane and natural gas heating allowed on sidewalks only
  • Set up additional outdoor enclosure options, including partial and full-tent enclosures, and single-party enclosures, such as plastic domes

What’s Next

A working group of City agencies will work together to develop the program design and legal framework for a permanent outdoor dining program. To complete the process in this administration, stakeholder engagement and planning will start right away, with environmental review and public review to be completed soon after.

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