NYC Business and Design Experts On Ways to Help Restaurants Survive the Winter

Winter is coming, and many restaurants are in the midst of constructing sturdier outdoor dining tents, wiring up heating facilities, and otherwise scrambling to do whatever the city will allow for dining operations before the cold weather settles in for good.

a city street covered in snow

© Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock

But between the indoor capacity restrictions and NYC’s typical snowy winters, many restaurants are expecting a tough road ahead. In light of that reality, NYC-based public policy think-tank the Center for an Urban Future polled local industry experts and restaurateurs, including Yong Zhao and Nicky Chang of Chinese fast-casual chain Junzi and Queens Night Market founder John Wang, to get their opinion on possible solutions that the city should offer to help restaurants survive the upcoming winter months.

Below, we’ve rounded up a few suggestions that stood out to us; the full list can be found here.

Expanding the scope of outdoor dining

Vishaan Chakrabarti, the founder of architecture firm Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), says the city should provide restaurants with scaffolding material to build partially enclosed outdoor dining areas that could have roll-down coverings on some sides to at least partially trap in the heat.

Another architect, Claire Weisz, the founder of firm WXY, says the city should make it easier for businesses to put up awnings. The current system requires yearly payments and having to go through an extensive permitting system, but Weisz says the process could be simplified.

Architect Donald Clinton, of the firm Cooper Robertson, is taking it one step further and suggesting the city help restaurants build larger structures that fit outdoor seating for multiple restaurants on streets that have been closed to vehicular traffic all week. These tent-like structures would be funded through the help of local business improvement districts, and leave one lane of the road open for service and emergency vehicles, he says. These structures would, however, have to meet the city’s restrictions on indoor dining, if they are fully enclosed.

Utilizing vacant storefronts for pop-up restaurants

Empty storefronts was a problem plaguing the city even before the pandemic, and the novel coronavirus has only exacerbated the situation. Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance says the city should provide landlords with certain tax incentives to rent out their spaces to tenants like restaurants for a limited period of time. The city is currently in the midst of a restaurant pop-up boom, and a proposal like this could tap into that.

Deborah Martin, the executive director of non-profit the Van Alen Institute says existing businesses could also be allowed to temporarily expand into adjacent vacant properties to maximize output while still following social-distancing protocols.

Providing winterized dining resources to low-income communities

Kenneth Mbonu, the executive director of the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction business improvement district says many of the restaurants in his area have been unable to participate in winter outdoor dining due to the prohibitive costs of purchasing heaters and other equipment to eat outside. Mbonu says the city should provide micro-grants targeted specifically to these types of costs to help businesses get to set up.

Joyce Moy, the executive director of the City University of New York’s Asian American and Asian Research Institute adds that local BIDs, chambers of commerce, and merchants associations across the city should come together to create a common loan fund that restaurants can access to for winter outdoor dining costs.

Expand opportunities for outdoor markets

NYC already has several outdoor markets pop up during the winter months, but Yong Zhao and Nicky Chang, of Chinese fast-casual chain Junzi Kitchen say the city should encourage more such markets in different neighborhoods across the city with an emphasis on local restaurants getting to have stalls there.

Andrew Rasiej, the executive director of non-profit community center Civic Hall says food trucks should also be invited to several of the existing markets in the city, particularly the weekly greenmarkets.

Partnering restaurants with food shelters and pantries

As an extra source of revenue for restaurants, John Wang, the founder of Queens Night Market says the city should contract restaurants to provide food for shelters and pantries, with an emphasis placed on restaurants that are located close to these establishments.

For a detailed list of suggestions head on over to the Center for an Urban Future to check out the suggestions.

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