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Don’t Believe the Hype: Outdoor Dining to Mostly End in 2024

Ignore the spin—this is it, folks.

So long, you beautiful shed. (Hell Gate)

If you're only following the headlines, you might be fooled into thinking that New York's outdoor dining program, thrown together during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, is being made permanent. Something that has made the city more lived-in, vibrant, even magical, and been a boon to the city's restaurants and its workers, was now being codified (which is especially important after a judge ruled that the city could not just keep renewing the program on an emergency basis). 

You would be, sadly, wrong.

On Thursday, the City Council passed a bill that updates the City's longstanding and archaic rules regarding outdoor dining (which were wiped away during the pandemic by the City Council), and institutes a new program that will allow a few restaurants to continue offering al fresco dining, while pushing everyone back inside restaurants. 

Let's take a quick look at what the new rules will entail: 

  • No curbside dining during winter months.
  • Fees for restaurants that want licenses to use curbside or public sidewalk space. 
  • New guidelines that will most likely eliminate the ability for outdoor dining to provide shelter from rain or offer heating. 
  • And most importantly, as our good friend, A. Car pointed out this Spring, veto power by the Landmarks Preservation Commission if the proposed dining structure is within a historic district or near a landmark (pretty much all of the city). 

It wasn't supposed to be this way—in fact, the previous City Hall administration came oh-so-close to implementing a year-round curbside dining program before the efforts were killed by the Adams administration and the new City Council, led by Speaker Adrienne Adams, who was worried about the impact of the structures on—you guessed it—parking

Restaurant owners are already predicting a major drop in businesses that will opt to offer al fresco dining once the new rules go into effect. The Department of Transportation will likely begin its rule-making process this fall. 

Jackson Chabot, the director of advocacy and organizing at the group Open Plans, which pushed for year-round dining, was still bullish on the "permanent" outdoor dining program. 

"We've already seen some attrition over the past year or so as people wait for the permanent program, but this is a new era, a recalibration for restaurants, so while there might be a short-term dip in participation, we're excited for restaurants to finally have some clarity," Chabot told Hell Gate. 

Still, he admits the new program will be a vastly different era for outdoor dining, and that his organization and other advocacy groups will be working hard to ensure that outdoor dining won't vanish from poorer neighborhoods entirely. 

"It's going to be a challenge, but a solvable one, we hope," he said. "This has been a historic shift in the use of public space, and the change to the use of curbside space is an important storyline. Our city should keep changing, we shouldn't go backwards, and we should be focused on all uses in lieu of them just being parking spots." 

Existing sheds, and outdoor dining as we know it, will be allowed to stick around until November 2024—so we have another summer, and summery winter, and then summer again, to enjoy them. And then, like a carriage reverting back into a pumpkin, they'll magically turn back into parking spots for people with fake New Jersey temporary license plates. 

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