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NYC working with organizations to create standards for permanent outdoor dining

Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the outdoor dining program for restaurants.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: There is a big push from restaurant owners to keep those outdoor dining structures, those tents and sheds, around forever. They served, we know, as a lifeline for struggling restaurants from the start of this pandemic. Joining us now with more is Andrew Rigi-- Rigie, rather. He is executive director of New York City Hospitality Alliance. We're also joined by Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero.

So Andrew, thanks for being here. You know, yesterday, we had somebody on the show taking the opposite side of this argument and saying that a lot of those structures have become nuisances. It's hard to keep streets clean. It takes away valuable parking, among other things. What is the argument for keeping those structures permanently?

ANDREW RIGIE: Well, I think here in New York City, we have to understand that we had an emergency temporary outdoor dining system put in place and the rules and regulations were constantly changing. When it first started, it was warm out. Then it got hot out. Then it got cold out, so people started enclosing them.

So when we talk about making outdoor dining permanent in New York City-- and I believe in other cities and towns across the country-- we're not necessarily talking about taking some of the current structures that you referenced and making those permanent. Rather, it's creating a more standardized and sustainable program to transition to in the future.

DANI ROMERO: And Andrew, you know, this has been a topic across, you know, nationwide. What would be the-- I guess, the guidance or the guidelines that you guys are looking for?

ANDREW RIGIE: Well, I think all different neighborhoods are a little bit different. So pre-pandemic, we had a sidewalk cafe system that generally was pretty successful. There were clear rules. There was a community review process. Restaurateurs knew what they could do, what they couldn't do, and how to do it. The roadway is a little bit new. So that's something that it's going to be a little bit different in different areas based on the size of the streets, how many restaurants are on that block.

So, you know, you have to look at each neighborhood and each city a little bit different. But at the end of the day, we have found that outdoor dining is extraordinarily popular among the public. It's so popular among restaurateurs, it's brought a new stream of revenue in. And it's also allowed us to adjust our business model to accommodate our customers, many of whom, for the unforeseen future, are only going to be comfortable eating outdoors.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, and to that point, you know, colder weather is coming in. And so how are restaurant owners going to adapt to that? Are we going to see those tents, those igloos coming this winter? And I'm sure it's also operation costs are pretty heavy with that as well.

ANDREW RIGIE: Yeah, you know, we have to also put in perspective where we are now compared to where we were last winter. You know, indoor dining in places like New York City were shut down. So the only option was trying to keep people warm in the freezing cold New York City winter. So I suspect with indoor dining open here in New York City, we also have a vaccine requirement for indoor dining. More people or many more people will be comfortable eating indoors.

But people that are either unvaccinated or just aren't comfortable or enjoy eating outdoors in the cold, which is great-- I mean, I do it all the time-- will eat outdoors. So I think we'll rely a little bit less on keeping people warm outdoors because indoor dining will be an option. But we have all different seasons in New York City. So outdoor dining is incredibly popular. Spring, summer, fall, even during some of the colder days during the winter. but those really brutal winter in New York City days, I suspect fewer people will be outdoors dining.

JARED BLIKRE: Yes, and Andrew, I was living in the village over the winter and also last year. I remember the snow piling up a couple of times. And it did become difficult to navigate the structure sometimes. They were I think, introduced as a temporary measure. And I'm just wondering if this becomes a permanent thing, are they going to be rebuilt? Are there going to be some guidelines in place? Because a lot of them just kind of got slapped together rather quickly, I would say.

ANDREW RIGIE: Precisely, so that's what I was getting at before. These were put up in the midst of a crisis to really help save small businesses, save jobs, and keep New York City as open as possible. So there will absolutely be updated standards. The city is working with organizations like mine, but also the Regional Plan Association Design Trust to really come up with what the standards need to be. And there is a very long public review process. There's a legislative process or rulemaking process. There is public meetings to gather feedback.

So, what the ultimate permanent program is going to look like is going to be, I presume, very different from what the temporary program looks like. And listen, I mean, you know. You're in the city. There are some really incredibly beautiful outdoor dining structures out there. And then there are some that are really, really shabby. So it's finding what works not only aesthetically, but also operationally from a city perspective.

So we still need to plow streets. We need emergency vehicles to get through. And we need to also think about how the city of New York uses our public space with all the different uses that are demanding that space. But outdoor dining in restaurants happens to be one of the most popular uses for so many New Yorkers and visitors.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: But what about concerns for property value? I mean, a lot of people who have these structures in their neighborhoods are talking about how difficult it is, the flow of traffic, pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic in their areas, how it's tough to keep those streets, you know, clean that they're having a rodent problem in some instances. What about quality of life, you know, for the people who live in areas where these structures are?

ANDREW RIGIE: So there's been a big movement in the city of New York to actually try to reduce the unnecessary vehicular traffic that's going down different blocks. So that can certainly be looked at. We've been doing not just open restaurants, but open streets where full blocks are being closed down. And they have performances and artists and outdoor dining.

So it's really rethinking about the future of our city streetscape and creating more sustainable, more livable, and new way we look at some of these streets. I mean, and Europe people point to because they've been doing this for a long time. So those are certainly issues that will be addressed.

As far as the different safety issues, those are things that are going to be addressed as well. But, you know, restaurants and outdoor dining has been incredibly safe. It's like a fraction of a percent of parking spots that have actually been taken up from outdoor dining.

There's something like three million parking spaces in the city in New York. And fewer than 10,000 of them are being used for outdoor dining. And that's helping employ people. That's helping people eat outdoors, enjoy each other's company. So, you know, there's always going to be a loss, but I think overall, the payoff is greater with outdoor dining.

Issues like sanitation, like rats, frankly, those are issues that existed with outdoor dining, with-- before outdoor dining. And we did have outdoor dining, but at a much more limited capacity before the pandemic. So, you know, it's a big complex city, but we need to make big complex decisions to move our city forward.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Andrew Rigie and Dani Romero, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.