What’s Up With Outdoor Dining in NYC This Summer?

Here’s what we know as of right now.

rooftop reds
Courtesy of Rooftop Reds

When restaurants and bars were ordered to close their dine-in spaces in March because of COVID-19, many of us showed our continued support by ordering takeout and delivery instead. But now that New York City’s reopening has officially begun, you might be wondering exactly when and how you’ll be able to eat out among New Yorkers again -- especially now with warm summer weather in full effect.

With New York City currently in Phase 1 of its reopening, the arrival of outdoor dining is on the horizon for Phase 2 with an expected start date of Monday, June 22. Learn more about what you can expect the experience to look like and what measures are being put in place for our health and safety. And as always, we encourage you to social distance responsibly, wear a face mask, and consider takeout and delivery options to enjoy at home for maximum safety. 

Has outdoor dining reopened in New York City? 

Not yet, but Governor Andrew Cuomo announced it’s possibly “on track” to start on Monday, June 22, when Phase 2 of reopening is set to begin. (Although some defiant spots have started serving anyway by setting up their outdoor tables). Phase 1 of New York City’s reopening began on Monday, June 8th, and allowed industries like construction, manufacturing, and retail (for curb-side/in-store pickup) to reopen. With the restaurant and bar industry included in Phase 2, takeout and delivery are the only options for ordering as of today.

When will I be able to dine out at restaurants and bars again?

Indoor dining is allowed to resume in Phase 3 (with capacity rules), which currently has no estimated start date as it’s contingent on the success of 1 and 2. However, outdoor dining will be a major part of Phase 2. We’ll provide updates once more information becomes available. 

What’s considered “outdoor seating” these days? 

City Hall has started a new initiative called Open Restaurants. Its primary goal is to help restaurants, bars, and food establishments alike set up and expand outdoor seating. Outdoor seating means an open-air space with unobstructed airflow coming from at least two sides. A temporary or fixed cover like an awning or roof may also be constructed.

Outdoor dining table in Little Italy, NYC

What can I expect the table arrangements to look like?

Outdoor tables must be separated by a minimum of six feet in all directions. For any table arrangements where this distance of separation isn’t feasible, a barrier with a minimum of five feet in height must be installed between tables.

How many people can I dine out with?

Depending on how large their outdoor seating is, the maximum number that a restaurant or bar can accommodate in a single party will be 10 customers. Anyone seated together at a table must all be from the same group, although they may be from different households.

Will the restaurant staff be wearing face masks?

Yes. While employees will be instructed to maintain a distance of six feet with their coworkers when working, they will also be required to wear a face covering at all times. According to the Food Service Guidelines for Employers and Employees, “acceptable face coverings include but are not limited to cloth (e.g., homemade sewn, quick cut, bandana), surgical masks, and face shields.”

As a customer, will I have to wear a mask?

Yes, except for when you’re seated at your table. While you’re encouraged to wear a face mask as much as possible while seated at your table and not eating and/or drinking, it’s not required. For anyone over the age of two, a face mask must be worn at all other times. This includes while waiting to be seated, when walking to and from tables, and also going to the restroom.

Speaking of restrooms, how will that work?

Customers can expect clear floor markings spaced out at six feet while waiting in line for restrooms in order to maintain social distancing. Restrooms must also be rigorously cleaned and disinfected since they are used by many individuals and contain many high-touch surfaces.

waiter cleaning table
Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock

What other safety and health measurements will restaurants and bars be taking?

It will be mandatory for employees to have daily health screenings with things like temperature checks and questionnaires. Staff must also clean and disinfect areas with high traffic and high-touch surfaces on a regular basis. Establishments must also install hand hygiene stations with soap, running water, and paper towels. If hand hygiene stations aren’t available, they are required to offer a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol concentration.

What are some places that are planning outdoor dining when Phase 2 begins?

French brasserie and steakhouse Boucherie will have expanded sidewalk seating in both their West Village and Union Square locations. Grand Army in Boerum Hill plans to serve their seafood-focused menu and cocktails in outdoor seating on State Street. North Carolina-style barbecue spot Arrogant Swine in East Williamsburg/Bushwick is installing shades for their outdoor seating in preparation. Le Crocodile in Williamsburg plans to bring their full menu of French fare al fresco with extensive outdoor seating. There are countless others including summer standbys like Pilot and L&B Spumoni Gardens. Stay tuned for a more comprehensive list on where to go when Phase 2 goes in effect.

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Tae Yoon is the Local Editor for Thrillist NYC. Born and raised in Queens, New York, he has been writing since starting his own blog in 2006. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.