How NYC's New Outdoor Dining Rules Helped Outer Boroughs & Communities of Color

A new report reveals that a streamlined permitting process helped small businesses.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, outdoor dining has been one of NYC's highlights. While outdoor dining sheds have faced some criticism for garbage and pests issues, their presence has been a major boost to outer borough neighborhoods and communities of color.

Outdoor dining has increased to more than 12,000 locations thanks to NYC's Open Restaurant program, a new NYU report from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service first shared with Gothamist has found. Compared to before the pandemic, that's twelve times the number of restaurants and businesses that—as of June 2020—were undergoing the application process to join the sidewalk cafe program.

The increase came as a great service to both low-income communities and Black communities. The report points out that, thanks to the new rules streamlining a previously complicated and expensive process, communities that used to have little-to-no outdoor dining now have more opportunities to sit outside for a drink and some food.

According to the report, more than half of NYC's restaurants offering outdoor dining were located in the Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn. Additionally, 41% of those restaurants were located in areas in which Black residents were the majority, which is almost double the number in June 2020. Finally, the report also found that a third of the outdoor dining offerings (compared to pre-pandemic levels of 17%) were situated in communities where the median household income was $60,000 or less.

"The pre-pandemic sidewalk café laws were antiquated and just totally out of date, and really exclusive for so many small restaurants throughout the five boroughs that were unable to have outdoor dining previously," Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, told Gothamist. "Because they were either not zoned for it or because the bureaucracy and the cost to participate were essentially prohibitive to them."

Now, the City Council is looking into legislation to make the emergency outdoor dining program a permanent solution, with finalized, permanent rules in the works.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.