Is Outdoor Dining in NY Safe?

Posted on: December 9, 2020 by RMS Hospitality

New York City has always been a Mecca for restaurants and chefs with the fourth-most dining locations per capita in the United States. But when COVID-19 started to cut through the city, those restaurants had to shut down. To keep these locations open, restaurants have been putting up enclosed structures along sidewalks or on streets to let diners eat their favorite meals. But with the significant spike in COVID-19 cases across the country and higher positivity rates climbing back up again in New York City, health experts are worried about how these enclosed options of outdoor dining, such as tents or bubbles, may worsen the virus in the hard-hit metropolis.

Outdoor structures enclosed on more than two sides need to stick to the same dining regulations as indoor dining options. However, given the number of restaurants in the city, health experts fear it will be hard to supervise these outdoor systems and potentially lead to sick people. This could lead to potential lawsuits, claims against restaurants, and possible shutdowns. This concern has emphasized the need for a comprehensive Restaurant Insurance Program to be in place to protect against claims, even if they are not COVID-related.

Many restaurants provide heater systems and offer blankets to customers to keep them warm instead of setting up enclosed structures as experts fear people may be more exposed to spreading the virus. However, restaurants are waiting for more federal financial aid, and doing all they can to stay afloat during the winter months.

Still, with restaurants having few opportunities to make money, New York City is moving forward with outdoor dining as indoor dining is still only available to customers at 25 percent capacity.

False Hope?

Public health and medical experts warn that outdoor dining can create a false sense of security that is safer than inside. However, if customers wind up choosing enclosed outdoor options, the benefits of being outdoors, such as increased airflow, would be gone, and the virus could end up spreading more easily from infected patrons through droplets, especially if they’re not wearing masks.

More than 10,000 restaurants in the city have signed up for its outdoor dining program, a major increase from the original 1,023 sidewalk cafes that were open before the pandemic. The program helps restaurants level out the indoor dining limit that many restaurants say is not enough to break even financially.

The city’s restaurants are working with various agencies, including the health, buildings, and transportation departments, to ensure that they don’t block streets and have safe structures that don’t pose additional virus risks. Currently, Mayor Bill De Blasio (D-NY) has set aside 83 miles of roads for walking, biking, and dining, even expanding storefronts out to the street. This has caused more traffic in an already traffic-locked city and eaten up parking spots (about 10,000).

Is It Worth It?

While restaurants are seeing customers come out to dine in this way, they still have to fork over the funds to winterize their spaces for outdoor dining. From buying heaters to putting up plexiglass to hiring electricians and contractors, adapting these spaces can run restaurants around $50,000. But choosing a space heater or propane tank isn’t as simple as pointing at it and taking it home.

There are currently multiple regulations in place, including restrictions for each type of outdoor heater, such as propane, electric, and natural gas, as well as confusing and fluid criteria for what’s considered an enclosure. For example, covering two long sides of a rectangular tent would make it an indoor dining area, while protecting one long and one short side would not. This has caused restaurants to consider if they should be making these efforts or stick to online ordering and delivery service.

For now, it’s a waiting game for the city’s restaurant industry. While outdoor dining and online options have helped restaurants stay afloat, it’s only a matter of time before owners may need to close up shop for good. And with the recent $900 stimulus bill approved by a bipartisan House of Representatives, restaurant aid was not included in the aid package. And when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus, only time will tell if outdoor dining helped or hurt the cause.

About RMS Hospitality Group

At RMS Hospitality Group, our expertly crafted policies are written specifically for the hospitality industry. We offer custom-tailored solutions to meet any venue’s specific needs. For more information, contact our experts today at (888) 359-8390.

Posted in: Restaurant Insurance

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