Outdoor dining is here to stay, but its future could be very different.
So say officials from the New York Department of Transportation and City Planning, who began a tour of five boroughs in Queens on Monday to brief the borough president, council members, and ward council chairmen of the steps taken to implement the Open Dining Out Program of the city permanent.
And while the program itself is permanent now, the structures themselves must conform to guidelines that make them much more temporary.
According to the guidelines currently being drawn up, the structures must be easy to dismantle, mobile for snow removal and supply work, and must not be enclosed. In addition, restaurants must pay fees for the use of public spaces for the structures and adhere to a variety of restrictions on the size of use, amenities, and types of services they can offer.
“We really need to think through systems that can easily be coordinated with all the different things that happen on our streets and sidewalks,” says Emily Weidenhof, DOT’s director of public space. “We need to make sure the design guidelines promote clean, attractive, and well-maintained facilities.”
The Open Restaurants program was first introduced in the summer of 2020 in an emergency, with the city council deciding in April 2021 to make the program permanent. But the rules for the program, as well as the associated permits and fees for the structures, will wait until 2023 when the city finishes its rulemaking process.
Last month, the Department of Urban Planning voted to remove the rules on outdoor dining so that the Department of Transportation, which will run the program, can begin designing the permanent version of open restaurants that won’t encroach on existing outdoor restaurants becomes eating rules.
Until then, the program will continue to operate according to the emergency rules, which include self-certification by restaurants to demonstrate that they are complying with the program. That compliance, or non-compliance, was the main reason for discussion Monday evening between representatives of Queens Borough Council and DOT and DCP officials.
“Some of the accommodations are supposed to be outdoors, but they’re completely enclosed,” said Morry Golonoy, chairman of Community Board 2 in west Queens. “They haven’t checked any vaccination cards. They told me once because it was outside and they didn’t have to look. So I decided to eat inside, in the actual physical restaurant, because at least they checked? [for vaccines]. “