This week, the city got one step closer to making outdoor dining permanent when the City Planning Commission voted unanimously for a zoning text amendment which removes geographic restrictions regarding the use of outdoor space by restaurants. Once it's approved by the City Council and the mayor, as is expected, the slate will be wiped clean for the city to develop and regulate a new permanent program. And New Yorkers will have the chance to take part in that conversation.

The Department of City Planning (DCP) and Department of Transportation (DOT) announced last month that they are launching a public survey and engagement process to improve the designs and rules regarding permanent outdoor dining setups.

“The incredible success of outdoor dining shows how we can reimagine our streetscape to better serve our neighborhoods,” said DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman. “We have learned so much about how to make this overwhelmingly popular program even better, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re thrilled to start this robust conversation with the public to craft guidelines that will increase accessibility, safety and address concerns such as noise, hours of operation and sanitation.”

The details of their outreach have now been released: you can go here now to take the survey (they ask that New Yorkers respond by December 31st). That includes questions about the most important benefits of outdoor dining and what your major concerns are about a permanent Open Restaurants program.

Then there is the schedule of in-person and remote roundtables over the next six months. That includes presentations of plans at each of the five Borough Boards this winter, where officials will offer an overview of the future Open Restaurants designs, guidelines, process and goals, and will solicit feedback. Anyone from the public can attend in person or online on these dates:

  • Queens, Monday, December 6th, 2021, 5:30 p.m.
  • Brooklyn, Tuesday, December 7th, 2021, 6:00 p.m.
  • The Bronx, Thursday, December 16th, 2021, 10:00 a.m.
  • Manhattan, Friday, December 17th, 2021, 9:30 a.m.
  • Staten Island, TBD

There will also be a series of virtual roundtables open to the public, where "any New Yorker can share their thoughts on the permanent Open Restaurants program." Those will happen on Tuesday, January 11th, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. and Wednesday, January 12th, 2022, from 6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

The current temporary emergency Open Restaurants program will run through the end of 2022, so the city has until the start of 2023 to get the details ready before any changes are implemented. A first report on the rules is expected to be released in March 2022, followed by a second round of public engagement and outreach sessions to finalize details.

You can see the rest of the timeline for the outdoor dining engagement process in the graphic below.

DOT

The current set of rules in place for outdoor dining requires a clear path for pedestrians to walk by and regulates the distance between a business and its outdoor seating. In addition, no structures can be drilled into the sidewalk or bolted down, no structure can cover or touch a tree, and you can't block fire hydrants or street signs. Amplified sound is not allowed, propane heaters are not allowed, but electric radiant heaters are allowed.

The city is looking to increase ADA compliance and the number of platforms and ramps connected to outdoor structures; improve upon the types of structures that are permitted and decide whether they should be more standardized; and foster safe interactions between diners, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

The Open Restaurants program was first enacted by emergency order toward the start of the pandemic, and has been credited with saving over 100,000 jobs in the city; over 12,000 restaurants now take part in the program, compared to just 1,200 restaurants who had outdoor seating in February 2020.

Do you have a favorite outdoor dining set-up? Let us know on Instagram: