The Plan for Outdoor Dining in Winter Weather

By Morgan Wright

New York City, New York

Not all restaurants have been able to maintain comfortable outdoor dining in winter weather (Photo Credit: 6sqft)

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the restaurant business, especially in a city like New York that thrives off of tourism—as well as its residents going out to eat. Since mid-March of 2020, over one thousand restaurants have been forced to close permanently, leaving waiters and kitchen staff jobless and small business owners under an immense amount of stress.


When COVID-19 began infecting New Yorkers at an increasingly alarming rate, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo made the executive decision to close all on-site dining for restaurants on March 17, 2020. It was only in Phase 2 of Cuomo’s reopening plan on June 22, 2020, that restaurants could resume outdoor dining with strict guidelines on curbside seating and social distancing. On July 6, 2020, it was announced that restaurants could resume indoor dining at 25% capacity. The allowance of indoor dining only lasted until December 11, when Cuomo announced an official indoor dining ban in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases.


In the spring of 2020, restaurants had to think outside the box to keep their businesses alive. Some reimagined their menu and provided creative solutions to takeout.


As winter approached, restaurants were tasked with a new challenge, making outdoor seating possible (and comfortable), even when the weather is below freezing.


Restaurants that had the financial resources came up with creative solutions to combat the challenges of outdoor dining in the winter months. The restaurants that prioritized attracting customers, ensuring safety, paying their employees and adhering to the city’s strict guidelines were able to keep their businesses afloat.


For example, Mr. Purple on the Lower East Side constructed multiple heated snow globes situated on a rooftop that come with blankets and spectacular views of the city. At Daniel on the Upper East Side, mini summertime themed cabanas have been installed.


However, not all restaurants have been so fortunate. In most cases, creating an appropriate outdoor structure (or structures) that adheres to NYC’s strict guidelines is timely and expensive. Some smaller restaurants have invested in a few heaters, but most of the time a few heaters are not sufficient to create an attractive outdoor dining setup for most customers. The city’s guidelines require outdoor structures to have two sides open to the street in an effort to increase air flow and reduce the spread of COVID-19. There also must be six feet between tables and different parties.


Though adaptation has been attempted, New York City’s restaurants have been hit hard, and only time will reveal the long term consequences.