The city’s COVID-era outdoor dining program, which allows restaurants to use sidewalk and street space to serve customers, will become permanent, Mayor de Blasio announced Friday.
“We will make the Open Restaurants initiative permanent — and year-round,” de Blasio said on the Brian Lehrer show. “This has been, I think, an extraordinarily positive experiment, and it’s worked.”
The Open Restaurants program allows restaurants to use sidewalks and street space — primarily parking spots — to serve diners eating outdoors. Despite its popularity — more than 10,000 restaurants are now participating in the program — its long-term fate had become uncertain in recent weeks as temperatures began to dip and with winter on the horizon.
“We hope — I believe — this is going to make it a lot easier for restaurants to survive,” de Blasio said, estimating that the program has saved nearly 100,000 jobs.
Dozens of restaurant owners have had to shut down for good since March, and many more are afraid they could be forced to follow suit if business doesn’t pick up soon.
De Blasio’s announcement Friday came as the city braces for indoor dining to resume next week. That plan will allow restaurants to operate at 25% capacity inside, a number that prompted many restaurant owners to point out it won’t be enough for them to survive. They had also called for outdoor dining in the colder months to keep their businesses afloat.
The city’s indoor dining plan could be cut short if the city’s coronavirus infection rate inches over 2%. On Friday, it stood at 1.08%, but coronavirus clusters in Brooklyn and Queens have raised concerns that an unchecked surge in those communities could send citywide numbers climbing in the coming days.
But on Friday, restaurant owners and business leaders celebrated the extension of al fresco eating.
“Outdoor dining has been a monumental success for restaurants all around the New York City,” said Randy Peers, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “Mayor de Blasio’s decision to safely extend outdoor dining year-round, will not only provide a vital lifeline to our struggling restaurants but will also enhance the vibrancy of our neighborhoods well into the future.”
Jeffrey Garcia, president of the state Latino Restaurant, Bar and Lounge Association, said the decision turned “a moment of despair into a moment of hope.”
“Our members will benefit greatly,” he said. “It is an incredible relief for our members that they are now able to look ahead, plan and feel energy and excitement about what the future will hold.”
De Blasio said he wants restaurants to provide heating for outdoor diners in the winter and that restaurants would also be able to enclose outdoor spaces, but such enclosures would be subject to the 25% limit on customers.
Under the city’s plan, electric heaters will be permitted on sidewalks and roadways. Propane heaters will be allowed on sidewalks only and will require an FDNY permit.
Due to the potential for snow, the city will also require that owners strengthen barriers between their customers and traffic by Nov. 15.
“This is something we’re going to get to work on right away,” the mayor said. “We’re going to work with the City Council. Some of this will be, will require legislation. Other pieces are administrative, but this is a go. We want this to be something the restaurant industry can depend on.”
Open Streets, another COVID-era city program that allows streets to be opened up to diners and pedestrians, would also become permanent under the mayor’s plan.
Eighty-seven streets have so far been closed down to vehicular traffic as part of that program.
De Blasio said Friday he intends to expand it.