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The Sunny Future of Outdoor Dining

Outdoor dining is here to stay, with some caveats.

Anyone who spent time in New York City during COVID-19 will remember the introduction of outdoor dining sheds, which offered a slice of normalcy to restaurants and customers alike, without breaking social distancing restrictions. These sheds quickly became more than a temporary fixture — for many New Yorkers, they became a pleasant respite from the summer heat, and an opportunity for businesses to showcase their designs.

Fans of dining sheds were likely thrilled by the announcement of Dining Out NYC, the official program for keeping outdoor dining sheds, and the largest program of its kind in the country. The bill permanently expanded outdoor dining to all five boroughs, with plans to go into effect in 2024.

This March, City Hall and the Department of Transportation (DOT) released new guidelines for the program. City officials hope to correct some of the issues that arose during the temporary program, such as improving maintenance of the structures, and addressing cleanliness problems. "Outdoor dining was a lifeline during the pandemic, creating hope for the future of the city when it wasn't always so easy to come by," said Chief Public Realm Officer Liu. "Now it's time for the program to mature; these new 'rules of the road' will help solidify outdoor dining as a permanent part of our landscape, while banishing many of the negatives.

The online portal for permit applications opened March 5, providing important information about the guidelines, and offering downloadable sample blueprints of dining structures.

“The launch of the Dining Out NYC Portal and Set-Up Menu marks a significant milestone, bringing us one step closer to full implementation of the nation’s largest permanent outdoor dining program on city streets by the summer of 2024,” said New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “I am looking forward to seeing businesses across our city apply for the program and adhering to the new rules and regulations. This will enhance access to outdoor dining that is safe, clean, and rat-free in all five boroughs.”

The program identified four types of acceptable structures — a corner setup, a mid-block setup, a floating parking lane setup, and a steep street setup — for restaurant owners to use as a building block for their designs. Dining sheds, now referred to as “cafes” under the program, are subject to different DOT guidelines depending on whether they obstruct the sidewalk or the road.

Roadway cafes may be placed in parking spaces, and cannot extend more than 8 ft from the sidewalk, nor measure more than 40 ft in length (however, these dimensions are flexible under certain conditions). They are only permitted April through November. Sidewalk cafes follow similar guidelines; however, they cannot take up more than 50% of the “clear path,” or the unobstructed path for pedestrian use, on the sidewalk. Unlike roadway cafes, these dining setups are permitted year round. For both types of cafes, yearly fees are based off the width and length of the structure, as well as the location in the City. The Dining Out website and application portal both provide more details on the requirements for thes structures.

Once applications are approved, the cost of a four-year license is $1050. Owners will then have 30 days to remove their temporary dining sheds, install acceptable ones, or alter pre-existing sheds to fit the guidelines.

Restaurants that are denied approval (or those that don’t apply) must remove any temporary sheds by August 3, while those with applications that are still under review may keep their sheds up until November 1. Deadlines often appear farther than they really are, so it’s recommended for restaurant owners to apply now if they plan to continue outdoor dining.


Spring has sprung, with summer quickly approaching. If you are a restaurant owner, now is the time to read up on the acceptable designs and permit requirements for dining structures, before the weather gets warm!

For assistance with outdoor dining permits, or any other issue related to building codes and zoning, the experts at Outsource Consultants, Inc. are happy to help.