City Council Holds Hearing on Open Restaurants Plan

Council Member Antonio Reynoso at the Committee Hearing

Open Restaurants Plan intended for Phase 2 start. On June 4, 2020, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Open Restaurants seating program and the Council Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing held the public hearing on Intro 1957, a bill that would create the temporary outdoor dining space. The bill is sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso and was introduced at the May 28th, 2020 Stated Meeting.

If enacted the  law would allow the Department of Consumer Affairs to issue temporary outdoor dining permits so food establishments can serve food and beverages in an approved open space. The open spaces potentially include sidewalks, parking lots, public or privately-owned space or any other space where the City’s zoning resolution permits a sidewalk café. The Department of Transportation will identify those open spaces and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will create guidelines to ensure the establishments follow the proper social distancing and cleaning protocols. When restaurant owners submit an application for the temporary outdoor dining permit, they will not be required to get the signature of license architect or engineer.

Phase 1 of New York City’s overall reopening plan went into effect on June 8, 2020. Click here for CItyLand’s Phase 1 coverage. The Mayor plans for this Open Restaurants plan to take effect during Phase 2, which he believes could begin “as early as the beginning of July.”


On March 22, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order closed all non-essential businesses. Restaurants, eateries and food establishments were among the businesses closed for on-premises operation. While many restaurants were able to stay open for delivery or take-out, the New York State Restaurant Association reports that since the on-premise closures, restaurant sales “have declined by 79 percent, and New York state restaurants were expected to lose $3.6 billion in sales revenue, in April alone.” Restaurant workers are also reporting historically high unemployment rates.

Amid federal and local efforts to provide monetary relief to small businesses, and Council legislative efforts (local laws limiting third-party delivery service fees and waiving sidewalk café fees), restaurants are still having trouble turning a profit. Increasing dine-in profits would help alleviate some of those fiscal burdens. Social distancing was a key consideration in crafting this legislation. The committee report states, “In New York City, where restaurant spaces are much smaller, and rents are other operating costs are higher, compared to other parts of the country, it could be more difficult for restaurants to operate under these strict spacing or capacity limits.”

The City Council committee reports sites expert recommendation that the chances of transmitting COVID-19 is reduced when people are outside and following social distancing guidelines. The report also cites successful outdoor dining measures in cities like Cincinnati, Tampa, and Atlanta.


Over forty people signed up to testify at the hearing. The response was overwhelmingly positive and optimistic. Some expressed concern that the bureaucratic “red tape” could interfere with a good, workable plan, but Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg promised a “light touch” and that the process will not be overly “burdensome.” Trottenberg stated that the relationship between the City and the restaurant industry would be based on “trust.” Trottenberg also assured the proper measures were being taken to address sanitation concerns. Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris acknowledged many street vendor concerns and stated that the City is working with the State Liquor Authority to make sure the plan is workable. Some individuals expressed concerns about open container citations and how serving alcohol might function in the outdoor setting.


In a press release, Council Member Reynoso stated, “New York City is home to thousands of restaurants that reflect the diversity that makes our City special. They enliven our streets, share our unique cultures, serve as community gathering spaces, and provide economic opportunity to workers and owners. But our restaurants have suffered deeply under this lockdown and even when it is safe to begin reopening our City, many restaurants will not be able to comply with social distancing guidelines in what are often small spaces. So today we are looking to reimagine our streets, providing relief to businesses and a safe way for workers to return to their jobs.” Reynoso added, “This bill is meant to start a conversation. My goal is to cut red tape so that our restaurants can reopen safely and thrive. New Yorkers are showing us right now that they know what they need and that communities can work together at a local level to realize solutions without cookie cutter regulations from the city. We have to trust our small businesses to do the right thing. We have to let the people lead the way toward recovery. I am open to all ideas and I’m excited to see what New Yorkers come up with.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19 – and there’s no recovery without them. Our Open Restaurants plan will help these businesses maximize their customer base while maintaining the social distancing we need to beat this crisis once and for all.”

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said, “Working with our fellow agencies, we hope to not only provide needed space to break bread with loved ones – but at the same time promote health and cleaning protocols that wile keep New Yorkers safe. While eating out will not be quite the same, we hope that we can provide a safe interim option as the City starts to reopen.”

The subcommittee will vote on this bill at a later date.

For New York City-specific COVID-19 updates, the City has established an information site with updates from all major administrative agencies. Agencies include the Department of Buildings, City Planning, Citywide Administrative Services, the Department of Finance and the Department of Transportation among others. You can find that page here.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)



One thought on “City Council Holds Hearing on Open Restaurants Plan

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.