NYC’s Makeshift Outdoor Dining Structures Have Gone from Blessing to Headache to Nightmare

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When the first of the city’s outdoor dining structures went up in what now seems like another century, I was buoyed by restaurateurs’ never-say-die attitude. Come hell or high water, they were determined to ride out the storm and feed their customers.

But as the structures proliferated — and even got the city’s permission to build out into the street — I began to see the downside. For one thing there was the congestion. Certain blocks became so inundated with these structures, that navigating the sidewalk became perilous for pedestrians.

Now that indoor dining is slowly but surely returning, new trials and tribulations are emerging. As New York ABC affiliate WABC reports, the structures — and especially the ones left behind by restaurants that closed — have become a haven for homeless folks seeking shelter.

Then there is the matter of usurpation. One restaurateur is quoted as saying, “People are coming and drinking their [own] coffee, eating their food.”

And let’s not overlook the risk factor to diners eating in an enclosure that spills out into the street. In March seven people were injured when “a van collided with a car, smashing an outdoor dining structure before going onto the sidewalk.”

Some restaurant owners are understandably reluctant to absorb the considerable cost of having the structures demolished and carted away, especially after enduring the worst year in dining history.