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Astoria Featured in NY Times Article on Outdoor Dining and Safety

NEW YORK – As the cooler months approach, New York City restaurants are preparing for outdoor dining in the cold and the New York Times featured cafes and restaurants in Astoria among those dealing with the challenges that presents.

Some restaurants are “telling customers, the new B.Y.O.B. is bring your own blanket,” the Times reported, noting that “the explosion of outdoor dining has been a savior for more than 10,000 restaurants and bars that have taken over sidewalks, streets and public spaces to try to keep their businesses afloat.”

The popularity of outdoor dining led Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to make it permanent, “but year-round dining outside is untested in the city’s bone-chilling winters and has created daunting challenges for an industry fighting to survive,” the Times reported.

“Are we going to have a mild winter or a harsh one?” said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, an industry group, the Times reported, “It’s a gamble. With so much uncertainty about the weather and diner behavior, it’s a risk.”

“While a financial imperative for restaurants, enclosing outdoor areas for winter has raised health concerns as coronavirus cases in New York have started to rise again,” the Times reported, adding that “protecting patrons from the elements has led some restaurants to create shelters that lack sufficient ventilation, raising the risk of transmission.”

“Outdoor heaters — including portable propane heaters that had been banned in the city but are now permitted as a way to help restaurants — could also pose fire hazards,” the Times reported.

Photos in the article showed the popular café in Astoria, The Grand where outdoor heaters are in place for the cooler weather.

“In New York, the multi-billion-dollar restaurant industry, one of the city’s most important economic pillars, has been decimated by the pandemic,” the Times reported, adding that “indoor dining has resumed, but at only 25 percent capacity” and “about half the industry’s 300,000 workers are out of work.”

“Many of the city’s 24,000 restaurants and bars have closed for good, and those open are seeing only a fraction of their business,” the Times reported, noting that “some estimates suggest that up to one-half may close permanently within the next year.”

Public health and medical experts are warning that outdoor dining may also create a “false sense of security,” however, especially where enclosures are built that undermine “the benefits of being outdoors, like increased airflow,” the Times reported.

“You’re actually creating an environment where the virus is within the enclosure,” said Dr. Abraar Karan, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School who “has treated COVID-19 patients and prefers dining at tables out in the open,” the Times reported.

“More than 10,600 restaurants have signed up for New York City’s outdoor dining program, a huge increase over the 1,023 sidewalk cafes before the pandemic,” the Times reported, adding that “the program helps offset the indoor dining limit that many establishments say is not enough to climb out of their financial hole” and “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that capacity could be raised to 50 percent, but it is unclear when.”

“The city and state have imposed new rules for winter outdoor dining: A space will be considered indoor dining if more than 50 percent of its wall area is covered and be subject to the 25 percent capacity limit and other restrictions, including spacing tables six feet apart,” the Times reported, adding that “given the sheer number of restaurants, it remains to be seen how strictly the city will police outdoor dining.”

Officials told the Times that “various agencies, including the transportation, buildings and health departments, will play a role in ensuring that restaurants do not block streets and have safe structures that do not pose virus risks.”

“We’ll work closely with the industry to make sure every outdoor structure is ready for cold weather and safe for diners and staff,” Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for the mayor, said, the Times reported.

Drivers are also complaining about the loss of parking spots. Adam Kadi, 30, a food delivery driver, told the Times that “he now had to double park while making deliveries in Queens because dining cabanas took up curb space.”

“I get a lot of parking tickets,” he said, the Times reported.

“Outdoor dining is taking up 6,000 to 10,000 parking spots, many of which are metered spaces along commercial corridors, according to transportation officials,” the Times reported, noting that “the city has roughly three million parking spots on the streets overall.”

Danny Perez, who owns Blend Astoria in Queens, told the Times that “he was spending ‘five figures’ on a dining chalet with wood beams, an insulated roof and chandeliers,” adding that “you’ve got to adapt somehow or you shut down. What are our choices?”

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