New ruled banning New York City outdoor diners from using restaurant bathrooms gets overturned

People enjoy outdoor dining amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Manhattan
People enjoy outdoor dining amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., September 14, 2020.
REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

A new rule that barred outdoor diners from using a restaurant’s indoor bathroom was quickly retracted by the state and city.

On Dec. 17, the city tweeted out new guidelines for outdoor dining in New York City. While the new guidelines set up multiple restrictions for outdoor dining and pick-up orders, one rule that stood out the most was that restaurants that offer outdoor dining were not to allow customers inside for any reason, even to use the bathroom.

The document reads: “If my SLA-licensed establishment is offering outdoor dining, may I allow customers to use the bathroom inside? No. Customers may not enter the establishment for any reason.”

Later, de Blasio Press Secretary Bill Neidhart clarified that the new guidelines had been set by the State, not the city.

Following the announcement, many elected leaders spoke out against these new changes. 

“I doubt a restaurant was consulted in drafting these new and absurd guidelines. It can’t be,” Senator Jessica Ramos posted on Twitter. “These confusing and ever-changing rules are pushing our restaurants to close. They need immediate economic relief!”

“This is the sort of “guidance” that sets up businesses to fail,” said Councilmember Chaim Deustch on Twitter.

“This is quite absurd: You can do outdoor dining, but you can’t use the bathroom at the restaurant,” wrote Councilmember Keith Powers.

On Dec. 18, de Blasio Press Secretary Avery Cohen tweeted that the bathroom rule had been retracted.

“After discussions with the State, they have agreed to change the rule around bathroom access,” Cohen wrote. “(You can use the bathroom.)”

“This is common sense: of course outdoor dining patrons can use a restaurant’s bathroom as long as they wear a face covering. That always has been and will continue to be allowed,” said State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley. “Our goal here is simple — allowing restaurants and bars to continue operating in a safe manner that protects public health, and we will continue to support the industry through these trying times while keeping New Yorkers safe.”

The guidelines that are still in place include prohibiting customers inside to pick up a takeout order. The order must be made remotely, online or over the phone, and curbside pickup is still allowed.

Structures for outdoor dining must have at least two sides open for airflow, otherwise it will be considered indoor dining. Structures with sides that are covered with plastic, tarps or other materials don’t count as open sides, according to the city.

Indoor dining will remain on hold until further notice.