- Ninety-five percent of New York City restaurant operators believe the city's temporary extended outdoor dining program was "very important" to the survival of their businesses over the past two years, per a NYC Hospitality Alliance survey emailed to Restaurant Dive. Over 90% of the 726 survey respondents believe permanent outdoor dining is "very important" to the future of their business.
- The New York City Council held a hearing on Feb. 8 exploring whether to create a permanent outdoor dining program in 2023 — a move NYCHA and Mayor Eric Adams support. If the proposal clears a committee vote, the City Council will vote on a bill at a date to be determined. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio previously extended the program beyond its initial October 2020 expiration date.
- New York City's Open Restaurants outdoor dining program first went into place in June 2020 as a temporary lifeline for restaurants struggling under COVID-19 restrictions. The program saved an estimated 100,000 industry jobs and eight in 10 restaurant owners worry they will have to lay off workers if it's not made permanent, according to NYCHA.
Though many Big Apple restaurants and roughly 70% of local residents support extended outdoor dining, critics are frustrated that these rent-free and tax-free extensions haven't been afforded to other businesses.
Complaints of excessive noise and trash, unattractive dining structures, compromised sidewalk accessibility and rat infestations have also dogged the program since its 2020 debut. The Uniformed Firefighters Association is concerned that these restaurant extensions slow their emergency response times, and the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy recently held a rally in protest of the program.
During the council committee meeting, NYCHA Executive Director Andrew Rigie said there is room for compromise to support the more than 11,000 local restaurants that have been certified for extended outdoor dining since 2020.
"We shouldn't be so focused on what didn't work. We should focus on what is going to work in the future," he said.
Per the proposed permanent program the Council is considering, restaurants would pay $1,050 for an outdoor dining license and the program would restrict how many sidewalks and parking spaces eateries can use, the New York Daily News reports. The Department of Transportation is also calling for stringent enforcement of the proposed program, citing that though the city has issued 4,292 cease-and-desist citations to restaurants with outdoor dining-related infractions, only 22 of those citations resulted in fines.
Extended outdoor dining's future has been debated since cities across the country permitted restaurants to take over sidewalks, parking lots and streets in a bid to grow sales during dining room shutdowns. But now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the restaurant industry has a clearer understanding of how outdoor dining can help small eateries.
For example, three in four adults say they would feel safer sitting at an outside table versus an inside table at a restaurant if given the option, according to the National Restaurant Associations' State of the Industry 2022 report. Nearly four in 10 consumers say the availability of outdoor seating would make them more likely to choose one restaurant over another similar one.
"Based on the success and popularity of this emergency program, the City Council must develop and enact a standardized and sustainable permanent outdoor dining program that works for restaurants and the communities they serve so New York City can enjoy dining alfresco for many years to come," Rigie said in a statement.
About half of restaurant operators don't expect consumer demand for outdoor dining to go away this year and think the availability of seating outdoors will become more common this year, per NRA's report. Just one in 10 think it will become less common. Additionally, 92% of NYC restaurants believe permanent outdoor dining would allow their businesses to hire more staff, per the NYCHA survey.
New York City isn't the only market working to give restaurants permanent outdoor dining options. Last week, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved bills to extend outdoor dining for another year. Similar measures are currently moving through the Pittsburgh City Council, and the legislative bodies of Normal, Illinois, Irvine, California, Raleigh, North Carolina and more cities.