outdoor dining

What Winter Weather Means for Outdoor Dining Setups in New York City

A major storm hitting the city comes at a bad time for restaurant owners, who had to shutter all indoor dining on Monday

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Restaurants in New York City are dealing with a one-two punch that couldn't come at a worse time: An end to indoor dining, and a potentially major winter storm on the way.

As the city braces for a nor'easter bearing down, many restaurant owners won't have many dining options for customers, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all indoor dining to halt as of Monday, and the city's Department of Sanitation issued a snow alert for Wednesday afternoon that shuts down a large amount of outdoor dining.

The guidelines from the sanitation department work on two levels. The first is a winter operations advisory, which means that the city believes winter weather is possible, but outdoor dining in enclosures on city streets can continue.

A snow alert is triggered when at least an inch of snow is predicted. In that instance, alternate side parking and trash collection get suspended for the day, as trucks get repurposed to remove snow from city streets. More notably, a snow alert forces all outdoor dining setups that have been built on city streets to close, in Wednesday's case by 2 p.m. (when the alert goes into effect).

While the barriers or structures themselves do not have to be taken down, customers cannot sit in the existing structures, and any tables, chairs and electrical heaters be removed by that time. Restaurants are encouraged to remove overhead coverings if possible, or remove snow from those coverings on a regular basis.

If 12 inches of snow or more is in the forecast (which seems possible going into Wednesday), owners must remove or consolidate their structures before the storm, including protective barriers set up. Some of those have grown especially elaborate over the last two months as struggling eateries sought to fortify their al fresco options in a battle to survive the pandemic.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the goal is for restaurant owners to easily removed what they built for outdoor dining, but acknowledged that may be harder for some. Still, the sanitation department said the measures are taken to protect the owners.

"Our guidance is to take what you can out. Protest it. We want restaurants to know we have severe weather potentially coming in, do what you can to protect your investment," said Acting Sanitation Commissioner Ed Grayson.

City plow truck drivers have been getting special training, learning to navigate the streets that look far different with the outdoor dining venues that weren't there last time snow removal was needed. The sanitation department said that the city estimates the snow alert will expire Thursday evening, but could last until Friday morning depending on accumulations and road conditions.

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