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Mayor ‘trusts’ NYC restaurant, business owners to enforcing outdoor dining rules

West 26th Street restaurant open for outdoor business. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

As New York City entered Phase 2 of reopening on Monday after coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio is placing the onus of enforcing outdoor dining guidelines and social distancing rules on patrons. 

“We are trusting the people of this city to do the right thing, to keep each other safe and overwhelmingly that trust has been rewarded time and time again in this crisis,” de Blasio told reporters during his June 22 press conference at City Hall. “There’ll always be some people who take advantage and we’ll deal with that.” 

“Obviously, anybody who thinks that they see something dangerous or unhealthy can always call 311,” he added.

Restaurants offering outdoor dining must keep tables six feet apart. Diners must wear some form of face-covering when trying to get to a table or while waiting to be seated. If a restaurant can not place tables six feet apart, they must separate tables with a physical barrier that is at least five feet tall.

Under New York state guidelines, a maximum of 10 people can sit at one outdoor table and all those seated must be part of the same party or household. 

On sidewalks, tables and chairs cannot exceed the length of the restaurant or business, cannot be near a bus stop, and cannot block a doorway. Restaurants must ensure that there are at least three feet of clear space on either side of the outdoor dining area as well. The same rules apply for roadway seating. Restaurants and business must also keep their roadway seating at least 15 feet away from a fire hydrant and 8 feet away from a crosswalk. 

There is also the issue of permits. For restaurants and businesses that offered outdoor dining before the pandemic, the rules have not changed. But newcomers must submit an online application in which they self-certify that they will adhere to social distancing regulations. Over 3,000 restaurants have applied and been approved for outdoor dining service, according to City Hall. 

Both the Commission of the Department of Transportation Polly Trottenberg and Commissioner for Small Business Services Jonnel Doris, present during the press conference, supported the mayor’s reactive rather than proactive approach to guideline enforcement despite reports of confusion with restaurant owners. 

“We are very much hoping, as the mayor said, to use education and really work with restaurants, the hospitality association and local BIDs, and SBS will be at the forefront of that education,” said Trottenberg. 

Doris added that the SBS hotline 888-727-4692 was still the best way for restaurant and small business owners to ask questions and clarify any doubts they had about outdoor dining rules. 

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