Dining sheds are here to stay, in some ways. On August 3, a bill making outdoor sheds a permanent staple of NYC dining culture passed the City Council, and the public response was largely supportive. However, some qualms remain, not least because the legislation is full of compromises and enforcement quirks.
For example, road sheds will need to come down between Nov. 30 and March 21, adding another expense to restaurant owners’ ledger if they want to make outdoor dining annually available. Dining sheds on sidewalks are the only structures truly allowed to remain up all 12 months. The allowing operating hours for outdoor dining will be restricted to between 10 a.m. and midnight.
This provision of the law was clearly aimed at fervent opposition to roadside sheds that detractors say bring blight and attract rodents to their neighborhoods.
Responding to the legislation’s passage, District 6 City Council Member Gale Brewer (who represents the Upper West Side and part of Hell’s Kitchen) made clear that she didn’t oppose the final approval. Nevertheless, she maintained some gripes with the bill, such as hoping that residential and commercial areas would have different shed density rules. She also wanted an earlier closing time, a longer review period to take into account community board deliberation, and clarification on where tables and chairs would be stored in the off-season.
The Hospitality Alliance, a trade group advocating for the restaurant industry, appeared satisfied with the bill. They indicated that “this new law will cut the red tape and bureaucracy for small business owners to get a license and reduce the fees for restaurants to participate when compared to the overly restrictive and expensive pre-pandemic sidewalk café law.” They tellingly noted that they would look forward to talking with the Department of Transportation, which is the enforcement agency under the new law to hammer out how sheds would be “managed in the winter.”
The Alliance was surely speaking to the grumblings of restaurants concerned about losing an extra source of revenue that became available over the pandemic. The owner of a French bistro told The New York Times that taking her shed down between November and March would apparently force her to make layoffs, claiming that “it’s really disrespectful to restaurant workers and treating them like they’re expendable.” It remain to be seen how many restaurants will want to rebuild sheds each spring.
The timing of the bill’s passage seemed rather strategic, given that a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled on August 1 that “there is no longer an emergency that could justify the suspension of local laws to justify outdoor dining.”