City launches public outreach campaign ahead of regulating outdoor dining

Outdoor diners at Vezzo in Kips Bay.
Outdoor diners at Vezzo in Kips Bay.
File photo by Dean Moses

Mayor Eric Adams’s administration on Thursday launched a public outreach campaign to solicit feedback from local restaurants on the city’s proposed rules governing the outdoor dining program. 

The announcement comes after city officials in August passed the “Dining Out NYC” law, which made outdoor dining permanent, and gave the city more control over sidewalk sheds — a move meant to create some uniformity and minimum standards after the comparatively unregulated outdoor dining situation that arose during the COVID-19 era. 

Now, city officials are seeking input from restaurants on the best way to regulate outdoor dining, said Adams. 

“Outdoor dining saved 100,000 jobs in New York City during the pandemic and gave the five boroughs something New Yorkers had been craving for a long time, and now, thanks to this program, it is here to stay,” said the Mayor in a statement. “Our vision for the program will be developed in close partnership with restaurant owners, diners, and communities, and I am confident it will be a win for our entire city.” 

Adams said they will adapt from the lessons learned during the pandemic, as they look to balance the needs and desires of restaurants, and the quality of life issues that arrive as a result of utilizing street space for outdoor restaurant seating.

“We are taking the lessons of the temporary pandemic-era program — what worked, what didn’t, and what we can improve — and assemble the ingredients for the nation’s largest and best outdoor dining program,” Adams said. “This public engagement period will allow us to refine the recipe and deliver a delicious final product.” 

In August, the “Dining Out NYC” signed into law the idea that restaurants could use space on the roadway for outdoor dining between April and November, and use sidewalk space year-round. 

“Outdoor dining is here to stay, and we look forward to getting New Yorkers’ feedback on how to make the largest outdoor dining program in the country a success,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. “Step by step, we are transforming what it feels like to be outside in New York City and making this city a better place to live, work, play, and eat.”

But, while that law laid out the broad strokes of outdoor dining’s future, it left governing the specifics up to city regulators — which has led them to launch their public outreach campaign on Thursday. 

Proposed program rules include clear design requirements; siting criteria on where outdoor dining set-ups can be located in relation to other street features like subway entrances, fire hydrants, and more; and the types of materials that can be used in outdoor setups. They also require that the setups preserve clear sidewalk paths and emergency roadway lanes — include water-filled, rat-resistant protective barriers for roadway setups — and use easily moveable furniture and coverings. 

All proposed rules will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and public hearings, and finalized regulations are expected to be in place by the end of this year. 

After that, when the dust settles and the rules are in place, the Department of Transportation will create a one-stop-shop for restaurants to sign up to participate, and provide clear resources to ensure everyone is in compliance with the laws. 

Before any of that happens, though, they will embark on their recently announced outreach tour to determine what the best path forward is — and also what pitfalls to avoid. 

Members of the public can participate in the process, and are encouraged to write in any suggestions online here

“Outdoor dining has made our streets more vibrant public spaces, and Dining Out NYC will provide diners with an enjoyable experience while helping restaurants thrive,” said DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “Dining Out NYC will build upon what has worked and say goodbye to what has not. This public engagement period will help inform program rules and make sure the nation’s biggest outdoor dining program is also the best.”