Thanks to new legislation passed by the New York City Council on Thursday, outdoor dining just got (a little) more permanent. Raised during the pandemic as restaurants were prevented from serving guests inside, the outdoor dining cabins lining many of the city’s streets served as a lifeline for bars and restaurants seeking to stay afloat. The city has since sought — and largely failed — to regulate the laws surrounding outdoor dining, as bars and restaurants have adapted their businesses to accommodate, and even depend on, its existence.
According to the new laws, bars and restaurants across the five boroughs will still be permitted to construct and utilize their outdoor dining structures, so long as they’re taken down and inactive from Nov. 30 to March 31. The legislation also dictates that restaurants can only utilize outdoor dining from 10 a.m. to midnight, and stipulates that for the first time, establishments will have to pay a fee to the city based on their location and square footage.
Further, should a bar or restaurant seeking outdoor dining be located in a historic district or in close proximity to a landmark site, they must receive approval to construct an outdoor dining structure from the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission as well as the city of New York.
Despite the fact that outdoor dining has been widely accepted by most New Yorkers and has bolstered businesses following COVID-19-related hurdles, the city has received complaints against the structures citing excessive noise, obstructed parking spaces, and sanitary concerns including the presence of rats and excessive waste.
However, given outdoor dining’s mostly beloved nature, bar and restaurant owners have widely expressed concern over the new regulations. They pointed out that removing structures in winter months has the potential to eliminate safe dining options for guests, especially those who are immunocompromised. Others cite the exorbitant cost of building up and tearing down their structure each year, not to mention the cost of storing it for four months.
Regardless of stance, the new legislation aims to finally provide clear guidelines for the businesses they regulate to follow.
“Millions of New Yorkers and visitors to our city have enjoyed the outdoor dining experience, and the judge’s order makes clear that the time to pass a permanent program is now,” says Charles Kretchmer Lutvak, a spokesperson for New York City mayor Eric Adams, who supports the bill. “Outdoor dining is part of the fabric of our city, and it is here to stay.”