October 22, 2020

Outdoor Dining in N.Y.C. Will Become Permanent, Even in Winter

Even when the pandemic ends, New Yorkers will not have to give up dining by the curb.

As many of New York City’s 25,000 restaurants and bars fight to survive, Mayor Bill de Blasio extended a lifeline to them on Friday by making a popular outdoor dining program permanent.

In a crowded city where space on the streets and sidewalks is at a premium, the decision underscores how the pandemic has rapidly upended urban life.

The Open Restaurants program has allowed more than 10,300 restaurants citywide to offer outdoor dining by setting up tables on sidewalks, in streets and in other public spaces.

The outdoor dining program, introduced in June, had been scheduled to end on Oct. 31.

“Open Restaurants was a big, bold experiment in supporting a vital industry and reimagining our public space — and it worked,” Mr. de Blasio said. “As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”

The program has allowed restaurants to generate at least some income as they struggle to pay rent and keep some workers on the payroll. Indoor dining has been banned since the city was shut down by the pandemic, but is scheduled to restart next week at limited capacity.

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Updated 2020-09-25T19:30:13.543Z

Even with the expansion of outdoor dining, a recent survey by an industry group, the New York City Hospitality Alliance, found that nearly nine out of every 10 dining establishments had not paid full rent in August and that about a third had not paid any rent.

During the pandemic, Mayor de Blasio has increasingly opened some of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets for walking, biking and outdoor dining under pressure from transportation advocates as well as from many New Yorkers trapped in tiny apartments with nowhere to go. There are more than 70 miles of Open Streets, which turn blocks into car-free zones on certain days.

Restaurants serve food and drinks on 85 open streets, and will be allowed to continue to do so on certain days, city officials said.

The outdoor dining program has saved an estimated 90,000 restaurant jobs citywide, according to city officials.

Polly Trottenberg, the city transportation commissioner, said the program “has developed into one of the few bright spots in the pandemic” and called it “a creative new vision of public space.”

Ms. Trottenberg added that her agency would work with other city agencies and officials and the restaurant industry to develop guidelines for outdoor dining on a permanent basis.

As temperatures drop, restaurants will also have the option of enclosing their outdoor areas, but if they do, they will have to adhere to indoor dining restrictions of 25 percent capacity, the mayor said. “I think this will really help us,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We want restaurants to do well.”

Along two blocks of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which is famed for its Italian cuisine, 22 restaurants have created a piazza with white-tablecloth service, fresh flowers and twinkling lights that draws hundreds of people from across the region on a nice evening. A total of 48 restaurants in the area offer outdoor dining.

“It has been a lifesaver,” said Peter Madonia, the chairman of the Belmont Business Improvement District, who expects most of the restaurants to continue to offer outdoor dining in the winter and beyond.

“It was a game changer for us in terms of making sure the fabric of our community — the restaurants and retail stores — are vibrant again.”

Juliana Kim contributed reporting.