Outdoor dining; Dining Out NYC; sidewalk cafes

The Future of Outdoor Dining Permits

Manny Perez

Posted by Manny Perez

In the wake of the pandemic and evolving consumer preferences, outdoor dining seems to be here to stay. As a result, obtaining the necessary permits to offer outdoor dining experiences has become an additional hurdle for restaurateurs seeking to expand their business.

Navigating the process of securing outdoor dining permits can be daunting. However, armed with the right information and a strategic approach, restaurateurs can streamline the permit acquisition process to bring their outdoor dining vision to life. 

Burnham’s NYC office has been following the evolution of this permitting process, so while some of the information below is specific to New York, we are also including general guidance and trends. 

Understanding the regulatory landscape

The first step in obtaining outdoor dining permits involves understanding the regulatory landscape governing your locality. Municipalities often have specific guidelines, zoning ordinances, and health and safety regulations dictating outdoor dining setups. Familiarizing yourself with these regulations is fundamental to ensure compliance and expedite the permit application process.

New York Permit history and changes

With the swift influx of outdoor dining changes that came with the pandemic, NYC saw that it was popular but quickly saw that changes were needed to properly regulate it. Outdoor structures were thrown up that may not have met traditional requirements and quirks like propane tanks next to seated families were identified as…hmm… possible problems! 

As a result, Mayor Adams signed a bill in August 2023 to create the Dining Out NYC program that will “permanently expand outdoor dining to all five boroughs.” 

Until the program is fully up and running (estimated early 2024), restaurants will still be able to operate under the temporary program. By Spring/Summer 2024, within 30 days of the permanent application approval, establishments will need to install their new setups. 

Under the new “Dining Out NYC,” the process will now be run by the city’s Department of Transportation and the costs will be determined based on the square footage that will be occupied. The restaurant must have a food handling license. 

Information on how inspections will be done is still being finalized. The public comment period recently closed in November. Burnham will be following along as protocols are released.

From the program’s About page:“Under the permanent program, NYC DOT teams will continue to conduct both proactive and complaint-driven inspections and respond to complaints.”

For more information on the NYC rules, see: https://www.diningoutnyc.info/rules

Identifying Permit Requirements

Different jurisdictions may have varying permit requirements. Commonly, the permits needed for outdoor dining may include:

  • Zoning Permits: Verify if your business location is zoned for outdoor dining. In some cases, zoning codes may require special permissions or variances.
  • Sidewalk Café Permits: If utilizing public sidewalks for dining, you may need a sidewalk café permit. This often involves adhering to specific guidelines for space allocation, accessibility, and safety measures.
  • Alcohol Permits: If serving alcohol outdoors, additional permits may be necessary, such as an extension of your existing liquor license.
  • Health and Safety Permits: Compliance with health codes, sanitation, fire safety, and ADA accessibility is critical and might require inspections.

NYC Permit Types

There will be three types of permits offered under “Dining Out NYC”:

  • Roadway Dining
    • Accessible, lighter, open-air setups that extend the restaurant's look and feel out to the street
    • Setups will be easy to move, clean, set up, and break down
      Allowed April through November (eight-month season)
  • Sidewalk Dining
    • Intended to look and feel like a traditional Sidewalk Café
    • Year-round sidewalk dining
    • Reduced fees compared to the previous Sidewalk Café program
  • Dual permits 
    • A restaurant that is interested in having both sidewalk and roadway dining options

Assembling a Comprehensive Permit Application

Depending on the city's specific requirements, you may need the following components in your permit application:

  • Detailed Plans: Submit detailed plans outlining the proposed outdoor dining area, including seating arrangements, barriers, lighting, and any other pertinent details.
  • Insurance Coverage: Some municipalities require proof of liability insurance for outdoor dining areas.
  • Community Engagement: Involving the community and garnering support from neighbors and local associations can be beneficial in the permit approval process.

Not sure how to apply for an Outdoor Dining Permit? Burnham can Simply Get It Done for you! Contact us to get started on your permit.  

Dining Out NYC

Now that the permanent program will be under the Department of Transportation, the requirements will be different from other building permit types in the city.

To this end, unlike other permits, this process will rely more on the restaurateur/business owner as compared to a contractor or architect. 

Burnham gets it done

Burnham has the experience needed to handle these permits. We have the internal checklists ready to go. We have the existing contacts and partners at our fingertips. We know what we are doing to get it done. 

We will be following the changes in NYC and across the country closely to make sure that we are staying ahead of the modifications. 

Remember, each locality might have its nuances and specific requirements, so partnering with Burnham will take the burden off of you to keep track of the minute details.

Want to help our your favorite establishments? Share this with your network of restaurateurs.  

Contact us through our site or give us a call at (800) 407-7990.


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