NYC Council considers making outdoor dining seasonal

Jahlil Rush, Production Assistant

The New York City Council is finalizing a bill that would allow restaurants to have seasonal outdoor dining as the city experiences an increase in permit requests from eateries across the five boroughs.

The news comes almost a year after New York City Mayor Eric Adams proposed the creation of outdoor restaurants. He released a plan that highlighted active outdoor sheds in the city’s “Open Restaurants” programs in August 2022. The plan’s purpose was to shut down sheds from dining places that have closed.

In a statement from August 2022, Adams discussed the removal of abandoned sheds while reminding New York City residents of the positive effects that outdoor dining has done for the city’s economy.

“Outdoor dining has transformed New York City and saved 100,000 jobs during the pandemic, but we cannot allow abandoned dining sheds to litter our streets,” Adams said. “These deserted dining sheds have become eyesores for neighbors and havens for rats, and we are going to tear them down.”

Andrew Rigie is the Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a nonprofit organization that represents 24,000 restaurants. He told NBC News that breaking down and later rebuilding dining sheds would come at a cost for some eateries.

The city issued 1,400 outdoor permits to restaurants in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years later, outdoor permits for restaurants are up to 13,000. Due to the emergency plan installed during the pandemic, outdoor dining permits were free of charge for restaurants.

The new bill would charge restaurants for each permit requested.

Council Member Marjorie Velázquez is a sponsor of the bill and the chair of the council’s Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection. She told NBC News that she is “looking forward to our businesses benefitting from a carefully curated plan once rolled out.”

Council Member Justin Brannan told Streetsblog NYC that outdoor dining on sidewalks would continue without restrictions. He said that the council intends to put forth a proposal for a “better program” for temporary dining structures in the streets with “new rules, new standards, clear design guidelines and operating requirements.”

The rules of outdoor dining on the city streets have changed over the past two years. When indoor dining returned back in September 2020, then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made outdoor dining permanent.

Some restaurant owners expressed their feelings toward the proposed bill. Advocates of the outdoor spaces emphasized the importance of outdoor dining for small businesses.

Charlotta Janssen owns Chez Oskar, a bistro with an outdoor dining shed in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

“I’m heartbroken, I can’t believe they would do something like that,” Janssen told Streetsblog NYC. “New York is a 24/7, 12-month-a-year town. We’re not a resort town.”

Like other restaurant owners in the five boroughs, Janssen is still struggling to make up for the financial challenges her establishment faced as a result of the pandemic.

The crews from the New York City Department of Sanitation were out on Dec. 27, 2022, removing close to 100 outdoor dining sheds. Since then, 169 more dining sheds that were abandoned or possessed multiple safety violations were removed.

Adams previously took a sledgehammer to an abandoned shed amid complaints from the public who said the structures were drawing more rodents.

The city said that its main goal is to bring restaurants with outdoor dining areas up to code instead of taking them down, CBS News reported.

Questions remain regarding how much the permits would cost, how many would be given out and when the potential seasonal policy would take place. Kate Smart, a spokesperson for Adams, said the mayor is hopeful that both the council and the administration will be able to work together on creating a more permanent program.

“We’re committed to a permanent open restaurants program that supports New York City’s small businesses and communities,” Smart said in a statement to Streetsblog NYC. “We’re working closely with the council on this legislation and optimistic we can get this done.”