Summer is over, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means alfresco dining isn’t going away anytime soon, even as the weather gradually cools.
Restaurant owners want to preserve the outdoor spaces – adopted in response to the pandemic – as a more permanent thing, especially with the Delta variant which makes many customers nervous about dining inside. In New York City in particular, the trend exploded when public health officials closed dining rooms in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In response, countless sidewalk cafes and street-side restaurants have sprung up – as have the backsliding of advocates who cite noise, lack of parking space and homelessness as reasons they should be dismantled.
“We are much more visible from the street,” said Alejandro Fresquez, general manager of Restaurant Santa Fe in New York City, in an interview. “It was a game changer, even before the pre-COVID era, the people who were looking for us couldn’t find us.”
Now the Big Apple is exploring the possibility of making these dining options permanent.
“We’re not necessarily talking about taking some of the existing structures and making them permanent; it’s more about creating a more standardized and sustainable program to transition to in the future, ”Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, told Yahoo Finance Live this week.
To do this, the city will need to change some of the more restrictive terms of its zoning laws.
“The pavement is a bit new, so it’s something that’s going to be a bit different in different areas depending on the size of the streets and the number of restaurants in that block,” added Rigie.
Rodents and ‘fights’ between restaurants, residents
Amid the benefits, city and community leaders lodged complaints about noisy outside customers and widely open facilities soaking up much-needed New York parking spaces.
“When you dip these structures in the middle of the platform and on the sidewalks, it blocks the flow of the way these streets, the neighborhoods were designed, especially the historic neighborhoods,” according to Leif Arntzen, member of Cue Up NYC. , an alliance of neighborhood organizations that oppose the city’s outdoor dining program.
“Our street has not been cleaned for over 18 months,” he added.
Worse yet, Arntzen said he was concerned about “the rat infestation” and “the fighting occurring in the blocks between residents and restaurateurs.”
Lawmakers and city advocates argue the plan requires “greater” oversight before New York City makes it permanent in 2023. But other opponents want the program to end rather than be extended.
“I oppose this text amendment and call on the Planning Commission to reject this measure,” Assembly member Deborah J. Glick said in a statement.
“We must ensure that the limitations which take into account the use of the public space of our sidewalks and the interactions between restaurants and residents are respected,” she added.
During this time, some restaurants have closed permanently, but their exterior structure still stands. In some cases, they have become a shared space not just for diners. but for rodents and the homeless.
“We have coordinated with our Sanitation partners to remove 23 abandoned outdoor dining setups that were found during routine inspections of open restaurants,” the DOT said in a statement.
Despite the challenges, the city’s program has been successful for businesses like the Santa Fe Restaurant, which reopened in March. They built an outdoor structure which added more seating to its capacity.
“I have about 35% more seating. People just like to sit outside, they like to eat outside. So that gave us a huge advantage, ”said Fresquez.
The additional sales of these tables allowed Fresquez to add more staff in a tight labor market. But he also understands the impacts that alfresco dining has had on the rest of the non-dining city.
“For the people who run the restaurant, we are much more aware of these issues than anyone,” added Fresquez.
“We are the ones who have to ask the exterminators to get rid of the rats. We are the ones who have to drive out the homeless… I am definitely empathetic and I understand these issues 100%, but it is difficult to weigh that against the survival of an industry, ”he explained.
Meanwhile, the outdoors trend is spreading to other places. The located 20 miles north of San Francisco, surveyed their residents, visitors, and businesses to determine whether or not outdoor parks should be made a permanent downtown commercial feature. Out of 500 responses, more than 90% of residents want to see long-term parklets, compared to 53% of business owners.
And in San Francisco, the city to eat and drink in the open air a permanent fixture. This is part of the so-called “Shared Spaces” program that was put in place last year to support businesses during the shutdown.
“We are providing another lifeline for local businesses to thrive and creating a clear path to rebuilding our economy as San Francisco recovers from COVID-19,” the Mayor of London Breed said in a statement.
Under the new legislation, small businesses will not have to pay license fees for two years. And the program has also expanded to include public parklets for other uses like the arts and entertainment.
While the Delta variant has affected restaurant behavior, 84% of adults say they prefer to allow restaurants to set up tables on sidewalks, parking lots or streets permanently, according to a recent survey by the .
Despite its drawbacks, the loss of alfresco dining could prove to be an insurmountable setback for some restaurants, Fresquez believes.
“If they decide to take that away from us, we’ll have to reassess,” he said. “We hope he can stay, it brings his extra headaches, but the sales that we are seeing because of it are worth it,” said the restaurant owner.