By Molly Carew
Remember 2019, the city was abuzz, New York seemingly functioning at a higher frequency than ever before. I don’t need to remind anyone what came in 2020, and then some in 2021, which brings us halfway through 2022. Still seeking reminders of the comforts we had, before a global pandemic upended everyone’s normal. Along with the many changes our dear city has endured since 2020, outdoor dining seems a common topic of discussion, no matter which borough you call home.
A temporary solution, that enabled many people to return to work and serve you your favorite dishes, desserts & drinks now has our communities divided, between those who enjoy the benefits of outdoor dining and those who are affected by business owners taking advantage of the additional space with no consequence of mismanagement.
Since the introduction of outdoor dining, no legislature or regulation has been introduced to manage these outdoor structures in the long term or require businesses to maintain otherwise regulated restaurant and bar DOH (Department of Health) requirements. It has become a game of departments pointing fingers in opposite directions or stepping up to take fault.
Some of my favorite restaurants continue to maintain beautiful outdoor dining spaces, but many have not. And it is this that I wish to focus on. Instead of grouping all outdoor dining spaces as haphazard shantytowns, let’s look to holding the business owners who aren’t maintaining their space accountable. Just as they can be if their indoor spaces were maintained at the same level. We must find a balance for communities and restaurants to cohabitate on our streets and roadways in a conscious, functional way.
I believe this begins with ensuring all structures are DOT (Department of Transport) compliant with the guidelines specified in June 2020, which includes an 11pm curfew as well as structural and safety requirements. In line with being DOT-compliant, I believe it is equally as important to maintain DOH (Department of Health) compliancy, which includes active pest management. Maintaining closure of holes in barriers filled with sand as well as weekly/biweekly pest control. Business liability insurance should also be enabled for the additional space to ensure both businesses and patrons are protected. Ensuring there is at least five inches of gutter space along the street side to allow for active flowing rainwater as well as monthly removal of flooring to power wash and discard detritus guaranteed to build up under any structure. Sanitation companies are also affected by COVID-19 disruptions and could then acquire new business, in turn creating additional sales tax, payroll tax, and income tax collections. It is my hope that all New York City agencies can join forces in collaborating on a unique regulation to maintain our city’s new outdoor dining capacities.
This is not going to happen overnight, but with commitment from our community, representatives and City agencies I strongly believe that those who are truly committed to maintaining our City streets and the opportunities these structures afford so many businesses, that we can find a balance. If penalties are introduced for misconduct (For example, two written strikes and then removal of outdoor space at the cost of the business with a three-month probation period prior to gaining access to reapply for the Outdoor Dining Program at an additional fee paid directly to the City) and rewards (For example; no renewal fees) to those who maintain their structure per the legislation and guidelines yet to be implemented.
We have faced so much change in these past few years, and the façade of New York has changed too. These outdoor structures mean staying open for so many small businesses, their employees, and local patrons. To hastily remove them would be the last nail in the coffin for so many.