Navigating NYC's New 2024 Sidewalk Cafe Regulations

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Did you hear about the new rules regarding sidewalk cafes and open restaurant regulations in NYC?

If you’re running a restaurant, coffee shop, or pub, you don’t want to miss the newest sidewalk cafe and open restaurant rules.

Want to keep your outdoor seating the way it is?

Our latest blog post below is a complete guide to help you cruise through the new regulations affecting your outdoor seating.

What Is A Sidewalk Cafe?​

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A sidewalk cafe extends a restaurant or coffee shop, bringing the restaurant experience beyond four walls and onto the bustling sidewalks.

Directly next to the main establishment, a sidewalk cafe provides outdoor seating for customers to dine and enjoy the surrounding environment.

These outdoor areas often feature colorful umbrellas, comfortable tables, and subtle lighting, providing a welcoming vibe for customers to enjoy the outdoor air while they eat.

Sidewalk cafes have a significant role in promoting a sense of togetherness, encouraging social connections, and adding a touch of warmth to urban streets.

However, specific regulations and guidelines must be followed to establish and operate these outdoor extensions, ensuring coexistence with the surrounding community and adherence to safety standards.

What Is A Street Cafe?​

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A street cafe is an outdoor extension of a restaurant or coffee shop on the public roadway.

Restaurants and coffee shops offer outdoor seating arrangements where customers can dine or enjoy beverages in an open-air setting, typically in the parking lane.

Street cafes add to the lively atmosphere of urban areas, providing a charming and communal space for patrons to experience al fresco dining.

They include tables, chairs, an elevated platform, and decorative elements like umbrellas or planters.

To operate street cafes, specific permits and guidelines must be followed to ensure safety, accessibility, and compatibility with the surrounding community.

What Were The Temporary Regulations For Outdoor Restaurants During COVID-19?​

During the COVID-19 pandemic 2020, many jurisdictions implemented temporary regulations to support outdoor restaurants and help them navigate the challenges of public health restrictions.

These measures aimed to provide safe dining experiences while observing social distancing guidelines.

Temporary regulations allowed restaurants to expand outdoor seating areas on sidewalks, streets, or parking lots by streamlining permit processes.

Some cities waived fees for outdoor seating permits to ease the financial burden on businesses.

Guidelines were implemented to ensure a safe environment for patrons and staff, including spacing between tables, capacity limits, and sanitation practices.

During the pandemic, different regions implemented varying regulations reflecting diverse approaches to balancing public health and economic considerations.

What are The Next Steps Since Permanent Program Legislation Has Been Signed?​

NYC DOT is currently in the process of making the permanent application process live; it is expected on Feb. 1, 2024.

Once live, you can submit applications for the new program.

When To Change Your Current Outdoor Dining Setup​

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Restaurants participating in the Open Restaurants program may continue until the new portal is ready.

Participants in the current program will be contacted by the NYC DOT to submit new applications soon.

It is important to apply as soon as the portal opens as there is a three-month timeframe to allow current applicants permission to continue their normal operations during the approval process.

After three months, restaurants that did not apply will be penalized by being forced to remove their outdoor setups.

In addition, once your restaurant is approved, you have thirty days to completely update the outdoor setup to new design specifications to be released.

What Are The Requirements For The New Setups?​

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The new designs haven’t been released yet, so we must wait until early 2024.

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You can expect the following criteria to be discussed:

Siting Requirements​

Every piece of your outdoor setup is measured in how close it is to other objects. Examples are crosswalks, hydrants, poles, meters, and other restaurant setups.

Construction Materials​

The Wild West of 2020 is over, so finally, having design specifications and material requirements is a relief. The materials covered will include barriers, flooring, umbrellas, and planters.

Operational Conditions​

Clear-cut language describing how restaurants can use the setups, cleanliness criteria, and storage options. This will also include business work hours and a timeframe of use if applicable, and no amplified sound will be allowed.

A major change in the new permanent program will be the requirement for these outdoor setups to be able to be broken down more easily.

So, no more fully enclosed outdoor restaurants are allowed, which will require a lot of space heaters for New Yorkers to stay warm.

How To Apply For The Permanent Program​

DOT is implementing a new system where current registrants can apply for revocable consent and a license for both sidewalk and roadway outdoor dining.

This revocable consent allows the use of public space for individuals and businesses alike.

Please note that the DOT has decided to separate these permissions.

You must apply for sidewalk revocable consent and license if you want sidewalk space.

If you want roadway space, you must apply separately for revocable consent and license, even if you have both for the sidewalk portion.

The license term will be four years.

What is a Revocable Consent?​

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A revocable consent is the authorization of the use of public space from the City to an individual or business.

This includes but is not limited to, certain structures over or under the streets and sidewalks of NYC, including outdoor restaurant setups.

These are not to be confused with revocable consent for permanent structures, which is completely different and requires a separate division to review.

Both revocable consent types are revocable by the City, hence the name.

What Do I Include In My Application?

DOT has not yet released details on how to apply, but we know they’ll require drawings showing the dimensions of restaurant furniture.

We know the plans won’t require a professional RA or PE, so that’s a plus.

You can expect the application process to take 2-6 months for the sidewalk portion and 3-4 months for the roadway occupancy.

Applicants can check online for the progress of their applications.

The New Permanent Program is Not Year-Round​

Only Sidewalks can operate year-round.

Roadways, however, will be forced to break down by November 29th and can be reinstalled on April 1st.

That’s a solid 5-month gap where a perfectly good roadway won’t be utilized.

City Hall is not playing favorites either; there will be no exceptions to this year-round roadway restriction.

This does create opportunities for the private sector regarding rentable outdoor dining setups.

Restaurants must find other ways to store these setups for the winter.

How Much Does The New Program Cost?​

DOT will now assess two fees based on the restaurant’s location and size of the outdoor setup.

License Fee​

A $1,050 license fee, covering the four-year license term, for roadway or sidewalk dining, or $2,100 for both roadway and sidewalk dining.

Revocable Consent Fee​

An annual revocable consent fee is paid each year in the four-year term that will be determined based on the location of your restaurant and the size of your outdoor dining setup.

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Example of Revocable Consent Fees Applied:​

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Does My Restaurant Qualify?​

To find out if your restaurant is eligible, you must meet the following two conditions:

The ground floor restaurant must be visible from the street, and people can access it.

Your restaurant abides by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene rules for a food service.

Am I Eligible to Participate in The New Program Even If I Am Not Enrolled?​

You can apply for the permanent program without participating in the temporary program.

Restaurants currently participating in the Open Restaurants program will be allowed to continue operating while they wait for approval in the new program, provided that they submit their application within a certain timeframe after the application portal opens.

This timeframe is expected to be three months, subject to rulemaking.

What About My Enclosed Sidewalk Cafe, Previously Approved by the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection?​

Enclosed sidewalk cafes that were lawfully operated on or before March 16, 2020, can continue operating under the new program.

The DCWP rules require that the annual fee for an enclosed sidewalk café’s revocable consent be paid at the rate as of March 16, 2020.

Final Thoughts​

The times don’t outrun the laws, and it seems time is up for many of these restaurants and coffee shops.

It seems DOT wants their roadways back, as restaurants will only be allowed to occupy a roadway for seven months.

A lot has happened since the pandemic; these restaurants provide a much-needed break from the normal day-to-day happenings in NYC.

The designs, the smells, and the vibrant bustling of people outside fit with NYC’s character.

Hopefully, our favorite restaurants will continue with the new program, as I’m sure New Yorkers would very much appreciate it. This New Yorker sure does.


This article was originally posted at www.permitsinnotime.com.

Resources

The City will provide additional information about support once the application portal opens.

NYC Small Business Services (SBS) offers free services to help your business start, operate, or grow, including business education courses, legal services, and more.

Call SBS’s Small Business Hotline at 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692) to speak to a trained business specialist.

Frequently Asked Questions​

Which City Agency Will Be Responsible for The Program?​

NYC DOT will be responsible for the sidewalk and roadway outdoor dining program.

Which Agencies Will Lead The Enforcement of the New Program?

NYC DOT will lead interagency coordination on enforcement with the Department of Sanitation, the Police Department, DOHMH, and the Department of Homeless Services.

Will I Be Able to Keep My Current Outdoor Restaurant Setup As Is?​

No, there will be new design guidelines for all temporary setups in the roadway. More details to come regarding the exact design and materials.

Will Alcohol Service and Sales Continue as Usual?

Yes, if your establishment serves alcohol, you may apply to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to incorporate your outdoor dining area into the premises covered by your liquor license.

This article was originally published at www.permitsinnotime.com/sidewalk-cafe.
 
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Great article! I've been hearing and seeing a lot more sidewalk cafes/restaurants. It's starting to really take off all over the US and the world. And at the rate things are going, I can see a lot more of these shops springing up in the coming years. I would love to run my own little shop like this, but I'm by no means a cook or anything. But I am hoping to see more of these sidewalk cafes.

How many would you say are in New York City alone? I imagine there's tons on every street by now.
 
The City of New York has a really nice website dedicated to the new "Dining Out NYC" program, which can be viewed at www.diningoutnyc.info. @Jeffrey Calderon, you said in your article that the new program was expected to kick in on February 1 but I noticed the official website is now saying applications won't be accepted until March 2024. I guess restaurants still haven't been able to submit applications? Implementation of the new program sounds pretty fluid.

What's also interesting is that NYC DOT is giving a date of August 3, 2024 as the "deadline for restaurants with existing temporary outdoor dining setups to apply to continue operating" under the old rules while their application is under review. That deadline seems extremely generous as it effectively gives restaurants currently operating under the less restrictive Open Restaurants Program the rest of the year to transition to the new rules. If I were a restaurant owner and was currently operating a highly profitable sidewalk cafe under the old rules, I'd probably want to wait until the last possible minute to get my application in. I might also want to delay transitioning to the new program if the configuration of my sidewalk cafe was going to have to change substantially and there were going to be real costs involved. NYC DOT is anticipating it will take 5-6 months to process applications under the new program, so restaurant operators who submit on August 3 should be able to keep operating under the old rules through early 2025. I wonder how many restaurants will wait until late July/early August to submit their applications in order to preserve their pandemic-era setups as long as they can.
 
On my next trip out to NYC I'm going to check out some of these restaurants to see how these sidewalk cafe's are like. I don't know if the photos OP chose is what most of them look like, but I am a bit concerned about the quality of these sidewalk cafes. To me they look shoddily made, like someone just put up some dividers and called it a day.

But that's just those pictures. I assume most of them are well made additions to their business. I'm guessing with the shoddy ones, they set it up temporarily?
 
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