Outdoor Dining Goes Permanent, Prompting New Questions

Mexicoma, 2nd Avenue [photo by Michael Rock]
Mexicoma, 2nd Avenue [photo by Michael Rock]

After Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) announced Monday that outdoor dining would continue at least through the end of his term, differences between local electeds and restaurateurs on the issue have come to light. 

The announcement comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened the traditional models of restaurant operations citywide, threatening their financial viability. In order to combat their economic hardship, the city extended opportunities for curbside dining.

Councilmember Keith Powers (D-Upper East Side, Carnegie Hill, Yorkville, Central Park South, Midtown East, Times Square, Koreatown, Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, Waterside Plaza, Tudor City, Turtle Bay, Murray Hill, Sutton Place), an early proponent of outdoor dining, welcomed the mayor’s announcement.

“Extending outdoor dining through 2021 is welcome news for bars and restaurants. It’s also a victory for New Yorkers in how we can repurpose our streets for a larger good,” he said. “I am glad these establishments will have more hope for survival with this program, as I have advocated. Thank you to the Mayor for some good news for our small businesses.”

    City Council Small Businesses Committee Chair Mark Gjonaj (D-Bronx) agreed, calling on regulations for the new program during the colder months.

“Open Restaurants has been a lifeline to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic,” he said. “I encourage the administration to announce its post-October 31st regulations as soon as possible so restaurants can properly plan for the winter and spring seasons.” 

     But actual restaurant owners don’t feel that outdoor dining is enough to keep them afloat. Francis Mundarain, the Manager at Mexicoma on 2nd Avenue and East 85th Street, highlighted some of the challenges the current status quo poses for his business.

“We’re hoping to get the order to open inside,” said Mundarain. “This is not enough. Business is not going well. We have to buy a lot of stuff to keep things outside. We have to buy fans, we have to buy shirts, we have to buy everything that isn’t able to be outside on the patio, so we have everything already inside. We’re still waiting for the order.”