As the initial renewal of the program concludes September 30th, 2021 and the Delta variant continues to rage across the city, restaurant operators will be pleased to hear that the city is working to establish a permanent Open Restaurants program. The multi-phase project, which must involve legal changes involving outdoor dining in non-emergency settings, will be overseen by the NYC Department of Transportation and allow restaurants to use the adjacent sidewalk and curbside space.
To encourage public health safety, the New York City mayor’s office piloted and extended the Open Storefronts and Open Restaurants program throughout the pandemic. The executive order allowed eligible ground-floor restaurants to use sidewalks and curb lanes to conduct business, giving way to a summer boom in outdoor dining.
A timeline provided by the NYC DOT reports the following milestones:
- From Fall 2021 to Fall 2022, the city will focus on necessary legal actions including but not limited to an amendment to zoning text, changes to local law, rulemaking, design, and application details.
- Winter 2022, the permanent program application will open to operators.
- 2023, the permanent program launches.
The office is currently soliciting public feedback as the program planning is underway.
In an interview with Grubstreet, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie said: “COVID-19 has decimated New York City’s restaurant industry, and the OPEN Restaurants program helped save countless small businesses and jobs throughout the five boroughs, while bringing back a critically important energy to our streetscape. And through the process, outdoor dining helped us reimagine all the possibilities and creative uses for our streetscape to build a more welcoming, vibrant and livable city.”
However, both restaurant operators and neighborhood residents have demonstrated mixed support for the current program. According to a December 2020 poll, 64% of respondents determined outdoor dining “as an important use of curb space”. Restaurant owners in prime locations such as Vanderbilt Avenue expressed the Open Storefronts initiative as a lifeline, while others who were first—and lone—movers on outdoor dining on their block or had generally less foot traffic viewed the potential gains as insufficient when considering the presently lengthy city permit application process.
For residents in Lower Manhattan where outdoor dining is abundant, primary concerns include noise, pedestrian safety, littering, and parking. The prospect of a permanent outdoor dining program is opposed by community groups such as LES Dwellers, Orchard Street Block Association, the Chinatown Core, and the East Fifth Street Block Association. Notably, though a poll of Chinatown consumers and storefronts support a permanent Open Restaurants program, Chinatown seniors were overwhelming against Open Restaurants and cited sidewalk access as a primary concern.
Over the next two years of development, public debate involving a complex group of stakeholders including restaurant operators, consumers, community members, and public safety officials will continue to shape the permanent Open Restaurants program.