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Starting Monday, Restaurants Begin Adapting to New Outdoor Dining Rules

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Restaurants have been clamoring for permission from the city to open outdoor spaces for dining, and on Monday they get their wish. As part of New York’s phase 2 opening, dining establishments will be able to expand beyond takeout and delivery operations. But as is usually the case with the de Blasio administration, the roll out is already confusing and has been poorly communicated.

Here’s how the mayor’s office explained the new system:

Open Restaurants gives dining establishments five new options. Beginning in Phase 2, restaurants can implement seating in curb lanes and sidewalks. Phase 2 allows reopening and use of as of right outdoor space in backyard and patios. Restaurants can also work with their local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to establish seating in plazas. Beginning in July, restaurants can offer seating on Open Streets on nights and weekends. Sidewalk seating will be in effect until the end of October. Curb lane seating will last through Labor Day. DOT will work with community groups and partner agencies to identify additional seating within full streets closures in July. Restaurants can work with their local BID and DOT to request additional seating in plazas by emailing Plazas@dot.nyc.gov. The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) will work to ensure that the most up-to-date guidance and materials needed by small business owners for a safe phased-in reopening are readily available. The information will be housed on a centralized resource page with guidance and best practices for the restaurant industry across all five boroughs. SBS will also launch a reopening supplies marketplace for easy access to wholesalers selling PPE, gloves, sneeze guards and other equipment. Business owners can call a hotline at 1-888-SBS-4NYC to ask questions about this process.

If a restaurant already has a sidewalk cafe permit, it will be pretty simple. Starting on Monday, outdoor service will be allowed, so long as tables are spaced six feet apart. Customers may remove their face masks while seated, while servers are supposed to keep them on. The reality, of course, is that most outdoor spaces on the Lower East Side are pretty small, so the seating options could be limited. It’s unclear exactly how it will work.

According to an FAQ from the city, restaurants are not required to file an application for outdoor dining if they’re using privately owned space (like a backyard), a private parking lot or a balcony or rooftop. But operators seeking to use a “public sidewalk or roadway space for outdoor dining operations must apply online.”

There’s also the question of when and where liquor can be served. The FAQ states, “if you are licensed by the State Liquor Authority and submit all appropriate documents,” liquor may be served in outdoor spaces.  In another section of the FAQ, there’s vague language indicating that State Liquor Authority approval could be necessary in privately-owned spaces. But in his Thursday press conference, the mayor said,  “restaurants will not need to do a separate application to the State liquor authority. This is actually a big deal for restaurants – one application through the City of New York will cover your needs with the State Liquor Authority, as well. And I want to thank the State and the SLA for their cooperation on that, we want to make this simple.”

There are still a range of unanswered questions, as Channel 4 reported:

The plan calls for overtaking a vast number of regular parking spaces. Most of those spaces are metered, but (Mayor) de Blasio said the city still has to figure out what to do in cases where there is alternate side parking. Alternate side has been suspended for all but two weeks since the city shut down in March. De Blasio said Thursday he planned to make a decision on that in the coming days. Also an obstacle: restaurants located in front of bus lanes, hydrants or near construction zones. Those businesses will not have outdoor seating made available to them. And even though the mayor says that outdoor dining could benefit about 5,000 of the city’s 27,000 restaurants, some eateries won’t be participating as they aren’t able to fit enough tables to justify re-hiring workers, and some aren’t able to re-staff.

Any restaurant looking to file an outdoor dining application should visit this webpage.

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