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New Rules for Outdoor Dining Worry Local Businesses

HOST HALL-THOMAS: Restaurant owners who want to keep the outdoor dining sheds they built during COVID are soon going to have to apply to keep them…and, if they’re approved, they’ll face a bunch of new rules, starting next winter.

HOST BAUTERS: Among the biggest changes? Well, structures that extend into the street will have to be fully removed from November to April. Then, when those sheds come back next spring…they’ll look really different ... they'll have canopies instead of hard roofs, barriers to keep out rats, and they must be wheelchair accessible.

HALL-THOMAS: As Cecilia Blotto reports, some restaurant owners are not sure it’ll be worth the trouble.

BLOTTO: In the heart of Park Slope, is The Commissioner, a vibrant bar with an Irish pub feel. At 2pm last Monday, its rows of brown leather stools were almost all vacant, aside from a few usual customers. Brendan Byrnes is the owner, he’s having a coffee at the bar. He says the outdoor space he built during covid, was so popular, he was able to open a new location in Manhattan. The outdoor shed here is cozy, with heaters, white fairy lights and speakers. Byrnes would like to keep it, but he’s worried… 


BYRNES: “that entire structure is going to have to be demolished and trashed and we're going to have to start fresh, which I think is probably going to be 98% of the structures you see” 


BLOTTO: From next week restaurants can apply for outdoor dining under new rules. But these are a hefty 31 pages long, and Byrnes knows his current setup doesn’t meet these requirements. Among them, the structures must be easy to dismantle because they need to be taken down during the winter months, from late November to the early April. 


            BYRNES: “Not to mention the storage fees and all that jazz, but it is daunting” 


BLOTTO: Just the license fee for an outdoor space is over $1000. Then there’s the demolition. Byrnes says in the summer people don’t want to sit in a dark bar, instead they flood the outdoor space. And what if his application were rejected? 


BYRNES: “I think if we don’t have outdoor options, all of that will be gone. I hope that we'll be able to continue outdoor dining, but I'm not 100% confident that it will be a reality for us.”


BLOTTO: A subway ride away, on the Upper West Side, Nicole Paynter runs the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District. She looks forward to seeing creative designs the new rules could bring, but she worries they could also pose challenges. She pulls out what looks like a map of her district, restaurants that will have to get rid of their current dining sheds are marked in red. And there are many.  


BLOTTO AND PAYNTER: “So basically, all the restaurants on this side for like, for like over 10 blocks? Yeah, it goes further. This is just our district.. So I imagine this is going to be a big impact on businesses. Yeah, for sure.”


[Fade out dialogue]


BLOTTO: But new outdoor dining designs could improve sanitation. Particularly, the city’s battle with its greatest enemies: rats. That’s according to Jackson Chabot (Sha-bow). He’s with Open Plans, a non profit that works to improve New York’s street life. 


CHABOT: “What we've seen is that design can solve a lot of these challenges. And so when we have structures that are not built on sand, where rats like to burrow, we get a different result”


[Fade in ambi barista]


BLOTTO: But one restaurant owner is happy to say goodbye to dining sheds. Luca Di Pietro owns an Italian restaurant chain, Tarallucci e Vino. He used to have sheds at three out of five of his locations and he wants to remove the last one.


DI PIETRO: “I just want to go back to a cleaner New York” 


BLOTTO AND DI PIETRO: “Do you have to pay to get the outdoor shed removed? No, unless you want to come to remove it. It's not free, in fact I've been talking to my handyman and he said he’s gonna give me a quote. But it's upwards of $1,000 to remove that stuff. It's expensive.” 


BLOTTO: Too expensive. That’s what these restaurant owners say about the city’s new recipe for outdoor dining sheds. But for those who do want to try, the first step is getting architectural plans drawn up which then need to be approved by their local community board. If denied, they’ll have to cook up a new plan. Cecilia Blotto, Columbia Radio News.


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