By Emily Yourman
The outdoor furniture has been dusted off and placed six feet apart, “outdoor seating” signs have been posted, and customers are more than ready for a meal outside their homes.
Starting Monday (today), New York City restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Open Restaurants” plan allows outdoor dining on patios, sidewalks, open streets, and backyards — with a permit. de Blasio said the permit process would be “expedited” so the restaurants don’t get stuck in red tape.
Businesses are handling the new rules in different ways — from casual plastic seats on the sidewalk in front of Ray’s Pizza on Columbus and 82nd, to a more elaborate setup in the roadbed in front of Harvest Kitchen on Columbus and 73rd.
Phase 2 comes as a relief for many business owners; over the past few months they’ve lost the business of tourists, students, and many Upper West Siders who have fled the city. Many hope this phase will draw those that are still in the neighborhood.
“Right now we’re just trying to keep the business going,” says Evelyn, a server at Mila Cafe on Columbus and 94th Street. Like many other restaurants, Mila has struggled to break even during the pandemic. Miljan, a bartender at The Consulate, notes that their sales are only 15-20% of what they used to be.
Some restaurants have fared better than others: those that mainly serve carry-out foods have not suffered as much as establishments that rely on customers dining in. The Upper West Side locations of H&H Bagels and Birch Coffee do not plan on adding outdoor seating on Monday, and the employees at Bagel Talk do not anticipate that re-opening their sidewalk tables will be a game changer for sales.
Most restaurant owners, however, are ecstatic for the chance to draw in more business. “I can’t wait,” beams Wascar, owner and founder of M.A.C.C. on 106th Street. He opened the pizza shop last December and is currently paying out of his own pocket to keep it open. In addition to opening up his gated patio, Wascar has added sidewalk seating using a bench that was gifted to him from a local laundromat.
Customers and workers alike yearn for the social aspect of dining. Miljan misses “that passion and positive energy” the guests bring to the restaurant. Similarly, Tina, a server at Ashoka, wants to give a “shoutout to the whole community” for their support during this time and can’t wait to see them for sidewalk dining.