The city’s new restrictions on outdoor dining will force many restaurants to make major staffing cuts, particularly as some businesses decide to eliminate their roadway seating permanently.
“Dining Out NYC,” the new plan signed into law in August by Mayor Eric Adams, allows for sidewalk seating year-round, but mandates that roadway seating, so-called “streeteries” that occupy space in the street rather than on the sidewalk, can be in place only from April through November. That is forcing restaurant owners to consider downsizing their staff — in some cases by as much as half — as the number of tables drops.
Alejandro Trezza has managed Have & Meyer, a cozy wine bar and restaurant in Williamsburg, for 10 years. Roadway dining doubled the restaurant’s capacity, from 10 tables to 20. When the city forces Trezza to remove his roadway dining setup this winter, he says he will not be able to put it back in the spring.
“It would be impossible for us,” he said, because of the cost of breaking down and rebuilding the structure. Have & Meyer employs 12 people, but Trezza will need to permanently cut “maybe 50% of the people” and will lose roughly 30% of his revenue when the roadway seating is removed.
Enzo Pezone is facing a similar problem. “Where are we gonna store it?” he asked, gesturing to the streetery containing 10 of Pepolino’s roughly 35 seats. Pezone and Patrizio Siddu have owned their Tuscan restaurant in Soho for 24 years. They too say that the new plan is likely the end of their roadway dining — and that “for sure” would mean layoffs, Enzo said. Pepolino employs 30 people, and now they’ll need “two to three people less” per shift, said Enzo.
Outdoor dining has had its share of critics. In 2022, a group of 35 New Yorkers filed a lawsuit trying to end the city’s pandemic emergency outdoor dining program, citing issues such as “excessive noise… garbage and uncontrolled rodent populations… [and] diminution of available parking.” In August, the court eventually sided with the petitioners, on the grounds that the pandemic no longer constituted an emergency, but refused to end the city’s temporary program on logistical grounds. The court also made clear that its decision should not be seen as “an opinion about the costs or benefits of outdoor dining itself.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams also took aim at roadway dining in 2022, specifically because some structures encroach on bike lanes and parking spaces, though she has since expressed her support for the new permanent program.
Mayor Adams has tried to address many of these issues, saying that the seasonal plan for roadway dining “would allow us to keep our streets cleaner, fight rats, and get rid of abandoned sheds.” Adams has also been adamant that Dining Out NYC would “create great jobs for New Yorkers.” Meera Joshi, Deputy Mayor for Operations, has gone even farther, saying that without this new plan there would be “a shrinking of the employment in the restaurant industry.”
When asked to clarify how exactly the new program would create jobs, a City Hall staffer replied that before Covid, outdoor dining was “extremely expensive” and “almost entirely in Manhattan,” but that the new plan would make al fresco dining “more accessible to restaurants and available in all five boroughs.” However, the temporary Covid outdoor dining program, which has remained in effect since July 2020, has already made outdoor dining available throughout the city.
Seasonal staff turnover isn’t uncommon in the restaurant world, but owners say that these imminent cuts are something different altogether. A Pasta Bar in Soho has forty-five seats inside and forty-five seats between its two roadway structures. Andrea Pedrazzoli, who has co-owned the restaurant for six years, says that this increased capacity makes even seasonal roadway dining cost-effective. “It is a shame that we need to take [the streeteries] down every year,” he said, estimating that the seasonal rule would cause “at least [a] 15-20%” decrease in revenue, “but it’s not the worst case scenario.”
Pedrazzoli employs 35 people and one of his “biggest concerns” is that he’ll have to “get rid of at least 30% of staff” every six months. This much staff turnover makes it “hard to keep standards high,” he said. There is also the emotional toll of layoffs. “We are a family,” Pedrazzoli said, “you get very attached to your guys.”
Owners aren’t the only ones who will miss year-round roadway seating. “I enjoy it,” said Riki Hyndman, a server at Leo in Williamsburg. “It’s a different vibe out there.” She added that she felt lucky, given the new rules, that the majority of Leo’s tables were inside.
Ale Margos, who works for Trezza at Have & Meyer, is not as lucky. Margos’ section is in Have & Meyer’s roadway structure, the one that Trezza says will be coming down permanently. She enjoys working outside, though she admits it can be hard when she’s “running a carbonara” to a table in the middle of winter. Margos is worried that even if she keeps her job, she “will probably not have the same [level] of income” without the roadway tables. “I should probably start looking for a second job,” she admitted.
The new plan has its supporters in the industry. Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said that “the permanent program being implemented is not perfect,” but maintained that it is “light years better” than the pre-pandemic outdoor dining rules. “The political reality is reality,” he said, “eight months a year, or no streeteries at all.”
Gennaro De Gaetano, who manages Luzzo’s BK, a pizzeria in Brooklyn Heights, offered a different perspective. The new plan is “a shame for the neighborhood and for us the workers,” he said.
The government is “supposed to be on our side,” Gennaro said, adding that if his roadway seating is taken down, he will sue the city. “If they want to do something drastic like this,” said Gennaro, referring to the new regulations, “they have to deal with the consequences.”