Dine Out NYC in Chinatown by Rockwell Group
Outdoor dining in New York's Chinatown

Outdoor dining on New York City streets becomes permanent

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has made the Open Restaurants Program, which allows restaurants in the city to extend seating onto streets, sidewalks and public spaces, permanent following the coronavirus pandemic.

First temporarily initiated in June to allow restaurants to continue doing business while adhering to social distancing restrictions, the programme will now be a year-round fixture, De Blasio announced on 25 September.

The Open Restaurants Program, which has seen outdoor dining spaces pop up across the city, will boost the capacity of restaurants as they open indoor dining at 50 per cent capacity as New York gradually reopens after the coronavirus lockdown.

Restaurants allowed to heat outdoor spaces and build tents

Under the scheme, eateries are allowed to extend seating onto sidewalks and roadways, or onto adjacent outdoor spaces with their neighbours' consent. Establishments must follow a list of requirements for an Open Restaurant design, which include a clear path on the pavement, a maximum distance from the curb and a required height of enclosing barriers.

De Blasio's extension will also introduce guidelines for restaurants to heat outdoor areas during the colder winter months, which will be released by the end of September.

These regulations will allow the installation of electrical heaters on both sidewalks and roadways, and propane and natural gas heaters only on pavements. Propane will require a permit from New York City Fire Department.

Restaurants will also be able to build tents, ranging from partial to full enclosures, in order to keep diners warm.

Outdoor seating enables safe dining amid pandemic

Food establishments will have to apply online for permission to become an Open Restaurant. Three or more restaurants on a street that is closed to traffic can also apply together to expand outdoors in another option known as Open Streets: Restaurants.

Following the city lockdown, more than 10,300 restaurants citywide reopened with activities outdoors over summer, according to the New York Times, allowing them to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A number of architects and designers also came up with creative ways for restaurants to allow safe dining post-Covid-19. In May, ahead of New York's outdoor dining programme, designer David Rockwell created a kit of parts to turn the city's streets into outdoor restaurants with socially distanced dining.

His firm, Rockwell Group, later built a pro-bono DineOut NYC project (pictured top) comprising 120 seats for restaurants on Mott Street in Chinatown.

Arts centre Mediamatic also developed a socially distanced dining experience in Amsterdam where guests sit in their own greenhouse and hosts wear face shields.

Photograph of DineOut NYC is by Emily Andrews for Rockwell Group.