Report states that communities of color doubled their share of New York City’s outdoor dining establishments, while low-income communities nearly doubled theirs.

A plywood dining shed on a street
(Photo credit: Getty Images/ Renata Tybur624)

New York City’s outdoor dining initiative drove a 12-fold increase in the dining scene, with more than 12,000 cafes, bars, and restaurants setting up tables on sidewalks or in parking lanes since the program was launched in June of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an evaluation by New York University researchers.

The report, from Professor Mitchell L.  Moss and graduate student Dominic T. Sonkowsky of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, compares New York City’s older, pre-pandemic Sidewalk Café outdoor dining program with its replacement, Open Restaurants. It highlights how Open Restaurants has led to new outdoor dining opportunities outside Manhattan, in communities that had no prior outside dining options, and in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods as well.

Among the findings:

      ·       The four boroughs outside Manhattan collectively have 51% of Open Restaurants sites, compared to 30% under the city’s pre-pandemic Sidewalk Cafes program.

      ·         Communities of color have doubled their share of New York City’s outdoor dining establishments, while low-income communities have nearly doubled their share.

      ·         The 17 Community Districts that had no outdoor dining under the Sidewalk Café program now have outdoor dining under Open Restaurants.

“This remarkable growth in communities across the city would not have been possible under New York City’s pre-pandemic Sidewalk Café program,” the report authors write. “Under that program, cafes, bars, and restaurants seeking outdoor seating had to undergo a lengthy review process and pay steep revocable-consent fees, assuming their zoning allowed it.”

The researchers note that Open Restaurants has stirred considerable opposition from neighbors concerned about noise, safety, and sanitation. The debate underscores the central role that public space of all kinds plays in the lives of New Yorkers “and how critical it is that New York City’s municipal government recognize the competing values raised by outdoor dining.”

The city government should build upon Open Restaurants, according to the report. It calls for greater citywide access to outdoor dining, noting its impact on jobs and the restaurant industry – one of the unexpected benefits, the authors state, to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. The report offers policy suggestions to make outdoor dining permanent.

To obtain a copy of the report or interview the report authors, contact Robert Polner of the New York University Office of Public Affairs at 646.522.3046 or


Press Contact

Robert Polner
Robert Polner
(212) 998-2337