New York City To Keep Outdoor Dining Permanently, But Is It Enough?

Food & Drink

As New York City still struggles to recover from the coronavirus-led shutdowns and restrictions, the outdoor dining scene that has come alive in recent months will now become a permanent fixture of the city. 

The decision came after the “success” and “an extremely positive experience” from well over 10,000 restaurants that have participated in the outdoor dining program, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on a WNYC public radio show Friday.

The city also will keep permanent its open streets program, where there are currently 87 streets that are closed certain times of the week to accommodate outdoor seating. Restaurants will be subject to the “right kind of heating over the winter” while those that choose to fully enclose their outdoor space will be subject to the same indoor dining capacity restriction, de Blasio said.

After months of shutdowns and lawsuits filed by restaurants, New York will finally allow indoor dining to reopen on Sept. 30, with a 25% capacity. 

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Outdoor dining “has been a critical lifeline for thousands of small businesses” during the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City Hospitality Alliance said on Friday, adding the group has been “advocating” for outdoor dining to stay. 

While scenes of revelers packing different outdoor dining spots show the concept has proved to be a hit, it still doesn’t address the issues facing those restaurants that are not in locations that lend easily to outdoor dining. Some restaurants said indoor seating capacity at  25% also won’t be enough to allow them to make ends meet either. The tale of two cities has resulted in a glaring contrast of busy outdoor restaurants against the backdrop of darkened restaurants nearby or on the same street.

Some businesses also complained about the lack of clear-cut standards and guidelines from the city and the state governments. A case in point, a caller on the radio show Friday questioned de Blasio why indoor comedy clubs serving food and drinks haven’t gotten the go ahead to reopen yet. 

“It’s one person standing at front of the place on stage with a microphone and a plastic cover between them and the audience,” a caller named Daniel from the Bay Ridge neighborhood in Brooklyn said. “We want to make a living as well.” 

Nearly nine in 10 restaurants, bars and nightlife venues in the city could not pay full rent in August, according to a survey of 450 of these types of operators released Monday by the Hospitality Alliance. More than a third in the survey said they couldn’t pay any rent at all. Even before the pandemic when operating at 100% capacity, these small businesses were “struggling to stay open,” the non-profit trade group said. 

Restaurants in New York aren’t the only ones being hammered. Emptied clothing and other stores that have numbered as many as, if not already outnumbered,  the opened stores in some neighborhoods paint another poignant reminder of the damage the pandemic has left behind. 

The seven-block stretch of Fifth Avenue south of 23rd Street in the Flat Iron district in Manhattan, where only a handful of stores from H&M to Sephora are still open, makes just one telling example. 

As many as a third of 230,000 small businesses that are located in New York City’s neighborhood commercial corridors may never reopen, according to a report from non-profit group Partnership for New York City. 

“New York should step up to chart the course for recovery of urban centers everywhere,” the group said in a letter this month, representing 177 New York business leaders, to de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. In a separate letter, it also asked de Blasio to address “widespread anxiety over public safety, cleanliness and other quality of life issues” in the city. 

Outdoor dining here to stay is only just a start. 

Related on Forbes: Even as cities reopen, restaurants are being hammered by the coronavirus

Related on Forbes: Century 21, a “dangerously addictive” place, just became the latest coronavirus casualty

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