UPDATE: Mayor Makes Curbside Restaurant Seating Permanent

People are enjoying outdoor dining (well, they have no choice), so Mayor de Blasio will make it a permanent summer fixture. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
People are enjoying outdoor dining (well, they have no choice), so Mayor de Blasio will make it a permanent summer fixture. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The city will permanently allow restaurants to keep using curbside space for outdoor warm-weather dining — one of the most revolutionary shifts in the use of public roadway space since car owners seized the curbside spaces for car storage more than 70 years ago.

And Mayor de Blasio said on Monday that his administration would consider making the popular “open restaurants” plan a year-round addition to the city streetscape, rather than cutting it off at Oct. 31, as is the current plan.

“We’re looking at that [year-round],” Hizzoner said at his Monday presser. “We started it and it was an extraordinary success [so] we said we’d go to Oct. 31. … We’re going to look at whether we can go further this year. … We’re going to see how far we can take it.”

Details were not provided early on Monday beyond the most basic: Restaurants will have the ability to use curbside space every year, starting on June 1. It is unclear if eateries will be charged a fee for the use of public space — as they are under normal circumstance for sidewalk cafes. And, obviously, this year’s coronavirus-era “open restaurants” plan was set up in June with virtually no community involvement, which will likely not be the case when the pandemic is over. Anyone who has ever attended a community board meeting knows that in many neighborhoods, sidewalk cafe permits are hotly debated. The current open restaurants program [which includes more than 9,700 eateries, map] allows restaurants to self-certify.

Even before full details were available, the restaurant industry was cheering.

“We’ve been advocating to make outdoor dining permanent, so the mayor’s announcement that the open restaurants program will return in 2021 is excellent news,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which has been working with architect David Rockwell to help restaurateurs build the proper seating areas to avoid running afoul of city guidelines.

Restaurant consultant Henry Rinehart also called it “great news!”

“It’s been a knock-out success on many levels,” he said, quoting the mayor from his announcement that it is “a true New York City summer moment … bringing joy and hope.”

The mayor focused on how popular outdoor dining is for COVID-cramped foodies, but Rinehart emphasized the important economic benefit of getting restaurants back to what they do best:

“They created 80,000 jobs this year,” he said. “That speaks to repeating the program next year as a huge step forward for all New Yorkers and the restaurants they love.”

He pointed out that some State Liquor Authority regulations make it harder for restaurateurs to fully succeed, and hoped the city would pressure the state to “repeal open container laws” and allow restaurants to serve booze outside their exact real estate footprint.

“New York City restaurateurs and bar owners have proven they are reliable partners, so let’s continue to create business conditions that are conducive to robust al fresco dining in our streets,” he said.

It is unclear if the city’s “open streets: restaurants” initiative — which has barred cars on dozens of roadways themselves for weekend dining — is part of today’s announcement. (Update: After initial publication of this story, City Hall said that it would also bring back the “open streets: restaurants” initiative, too.)

“It’s time to start a new New York City tradition,” the mayor said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “New Yorkers deserve the chance to enjoy their meals outside next summer, and restaurants deserve the chance to continue building their businesses back. I’m proud to expand such a popular program, and I look forward to participating myself next year.”

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