New York City restaurant owners fear losing $ 25,000 in outdoor dining sheds

“He’s here to stay,” assured Mitch Schwartz, deputy press secretary in the mayor’s office. “We are working hard to make the program permanent.”

Outdoor dining is a major investment at a time when restaurant operating margins are slimmer than ever. Building even a simple structure costs around $ 25,000, and other costs add up quickly. Cobi Levy, co-owner of Lola Taverna in SoHo, spent $ 180,000 on his elaborate outdoor dining space, “between the frame, the heaters, the flowers and the blankets.” Levy says the structures will help it continue into the future, while also creating the kind of street vibe that makes European cities attractive to tourists. “Everyone needs more seats. Unless it’s freezing cold, we can sell them, ”he says. “Imagine Venice and Rome with the old New York rules of outdoor dining.”

Andrew Carmellini, co-founder of NoHo Hospitality Group, whose restaurants include the must-see Lafayette and Locanda Verde, spent $ 250,000 on outdoor dining facilities for his five restaurants. He calls them “a huge lifeline” given the uncertainty surrounding the business.

Outdoor dining is also a source of employment for the industry at a time when the city’s unemployment rate, which was 10.2% in August, is almost double the national rate of 5.2%. . On average, for 10 outdoor tables, a restaurant will hire two waiters and a busser, according to Roni Mazumdar, co-founder of the Unapologetic Foods restaurant empire. At Cote, a Korean steakhouse, owner Simon Kim estimates he was able to hire 12 more front desk and kitchen staff to serve his outdoor dining area, which he spent over $ 62,000 to build.

“Al fresco dining has saved thousands upon thousands of restaurants throughout the pandemic,” says Rigie of the Hospitality Alliance. “He is credited with hiring 100,000 people.”

Outdoor facilities have also offered an option for unvaccinated restaurateurs, as proof of vaccination is required for indoor dining in New York City. The alternative didn’t help at Carmine’s on the Upper West Side in mid-September, when women in Texas were arrested for attacking a host during an argument over the vaccination status of their party members. .

There is also an increased threat to the safety of outdoor diners: there have been armed robberies on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and a man was shot in the leg while eating outside at Philippe’s. on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

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Meanwhile, many neighborhood groups have complained about the loud atmosphere created by outdoor dining, especially in areas like the Lower East Side and SoHo where diners are younger and hours can go later. . It’s an “open-air nightclub, Wild West vibe,” said Diem Body, founder of community group LES. The New York Times.

But for those hard-hit in the restaurant business, al fresco dining is an overwhelmingly positive perk. “The permanent open-air catering structures not only increase catering capacity, but keep safety and employment measures in place for catering workers across the city,” says Kiki Louya, Executive Director of the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation. “Restaurants will be better protected against foreclosures, and employment and incomes can stabilize,” she said. “It is important to equate permanent structures with permanent solutions.

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Kevin T. McElroy

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