by Adam Roberts
Throughout the pandemic, the expansion of outdoor dining kept countless restaurants in New York afloat. This proliferation of sidewalk and roadside dining was carried out under the city’s Open Restaurants program, which is operated by the NYC Department of Transportation. The program offers streamlined approval for outdoor dining, at least compared to the previous sidewalk café licensure system, and expands outdoor dining to include roadside sheds.
At a New York City Council hearing earlier this year, opponents attacked the program for supposedly increasing trash and crime in their neighborhoods. Nonetheless, legislation making the program permanent moved ahead. A few weeks later, Governor Hochul legalized to-go drinks, providing further impetus to outdoor dining.
However, opposition to Open Restaurants has gained momentum recently. A lawsuit has now been filed to eliminate the program, pausing efforts to establish its rules and regulatory scheme. Meanwhile, Mayor Adams made his sledgehammering of an abandoned dining shed into a major press event, shining further negative light on the program. Nevertheless, Adams has reemphasized his support for outdoor dining’s continuation.
The ongoing fight over the continuation of the program originates from its rapid creation in response to an emergency. Even restaurateurs have consistently struggled to understand the Open Restaurant program’s regulations. During the pandemic, AIANY helped form the NYC Design Corps, which provided pro bono design services for restaurants with difficulties complying with the program’s mandates. Despite these issues, AIANY has long been a strong supporter of Open Restaurants, and will continue to fight for a permanent and more effective program.