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Outdoor dining structures could aid restaurant recovery post-COVID: de Blasio

An early August effort to bring extensive outdoor dining to Mott Street in Chinatown. Photo by Mark Hallum

An optimistic Mayor Bill de Blasio briefed the press on Tuesday on the progress of the city’s vaccination effort — and his vision of making outdoor dining a permanent fixture on the five boroughs’ landscape.

The city will be helping eateries make outdoor dining structures through the Open Restaurants program more permanent with necessary modifications as well, something the mayor said will give the businesses capacity improvements once the pandemic abates and indoor service is allowed at full capacity.

“[Outdoor dining] has, I think, really improved the city, something that came out of crisis but proved to be a really good thing. It excites people to do outdoor dining in a whole new way,” de Blasio said. “By the way for the restaurants, it gives them a lot more opportunity to bring in customers and to survive this pandemic and thrive. And that’s going to be now true for years and years to come. Even when we get past a pandemic and they can fill up their inside, in especially nice weather, they’re going to want to have the outdoors fill up so what we need to do is work with them on just modifying those structures.”

According to the mayor, restaurants who have a structure meant to keep customers somewhat warm in winter, they will have the option of putting the who setup into storage or working with the city keep in place “the right way.” Guidance as to what the proper way to keep these structures out on the street was not elaborated upon by the mayor apart from keeping the space open for fresh air.

“I think the vast majority of restaurants will want to use it because it’s a great opportunity for them so we’ll work with them on how to modify that appropriately,” de Blasio added.

Some restaurant owners, however, have expressed the outdoor dining setup as more burdensome than helpful after months since the city began offering curb space to eateries when lockdowns began to lift in June.

In February, Monica Saxena, the owner of Aroqa in Chelsea, told amNewYork that her outdoor structure had resulted in a multitude of fines from city inspectors who told her the seating area was not open enough to allow fresh air to circulate. But when it came down a lack of window panes, she found the dining area regularly became ransacked by homeless people and thieves who made off with lightbulbs and heating units.

Currently, Governor Andrew Cuomo has only authorized restaurants and bars in the five boroughs to serve indoors at 75% capacity while other parts of the state are matching the standards set by other states such as Connecticut which is allowing 100% capacity.

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