New York City and the AIANY are searching for permanent outdoor dining solutions

Eating Out

New York City and the AIANY are searching for permanent outdoor dining solutions

At Melba’s at West 114th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Rockwell Group constructed separated outdoor booths with simple awnings to keep patrons distanced in the early days of the COVID pandemic. (Emily Andrews/Rockwell Group)

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, outdoor dining structures across the United States have evolved and solidified from laxly regulated, amorphous impromptu solutions intended to let customers dine in fresh air to, in some cities, regulated formal designs. As New York’s Open Restaurants program undergoes final reviews before its launch in 2023, the “Alfresco NYC Coalition” is searching for engaging, affordable, and contextual models of outdoor dining structures to use as city’s template.

Comprised of groups the Design Trust for Public SpaceRegional Plan Association, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Alfresco NYC Coalition is collecting feedback from the city’s design community, restauranters, open space advocates, and the city officials actually managing the Open Restaurants program to create best practice policy recommendations.

Now, the AIANY, the Center for Architecture, Alfresco NYC Coalition, nonprofit Design Advocates, NYCxDESIGN’s Design Corps, and New York City government have teamed up for a series of workshops to garner feedback. To that end, the Open Restaurants Innovation series is seeking three exemplary outdoor dining projects to focus on, and the insights gleaned will help inform Alfresco NYC’s report to the city on how the Open Restaurants program should be implemented, which will be used for the official design guidelines.

The AIANY competition to find those projects kicked off on January 14, and unfortunately today, January 31, is the last day that the designers have to submit their projects. Entry was, and at the time of writing, is, free.

Each of the entries will be evaluated on three criteria. For Civic Engagement, the jury will look at whether the design is reproducible, contextual, affordable to build, takes social equity (including neighborhood partnerships) into account, and is inclusive during the design process. For the Quality of Life criteria, the jury will examine each structure’s accessibility, nighttime appearance, noise potential, sanitation, and that it provides adequate access to both streetside and urban infrastructure without blocking them. For the Technical criteria, the project’s novelty, stormwater resiliency, physical structure and construction, interior heating and cooling, acoustics, seating, signage, and all other physical aspects will be evaluated.

The first workshop will begin on February 11, while the second will take place on February 26. The third and final workshop will be held on March 17, and a public program will be held at the Center for Architecture on March 28, where the designs and workshop findings will be presented.

As previously mentioned, although outdoor dining has been around in New York City since the early days of the pandemic in 2020, the Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) is still working through the specifics for the program’s permanent implementation. The design engagement process is expected to be completed by this spring, which will finalize the actual design parameters for outdoor dining structures—the zoning amendment carving out how much sidewalk and street space each structure is allowed to occupy has already been passed.

In the summer and fall, NYC DOT will engage with residents and policymakers across all five boroughs under the City Administrative Procedure Act (CAPA). During this period, NYC DOT will finalize its rules for the program.

In the winter, NYC DOT will publish a visual design guidebook and open a digital portal for restaurants to submit their applications to build permanent outdoor dining structures; the program will then launch in 2023.