NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — While indoor dining in New York City remains on hold, Mayor Bill de Blasio says the Open Restaurants program will expand to 40 more streets, but some restaurant owners say the city isn’t doing enough to help them stay afloat.
Outdoor dining is what restaurants are relying on to stay in business, so many were happy to hear the outdoor dining plan has been extended through October, but restaurant owners say the guidelines aren’t clear.
Raffaello VanCouten says he followed the city’s guidelines closely when creating his outdoor dining set-up at Dolly’s Swing and Dive, but he says, “They’ve threatened us now three times in shutting us down.”
VanCouten showed CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis a “24-Hour Notice to Correct” from the city’s Department of Transportation with a diagram of its outdoor seating requirements and pictures of his set-up.
“But there are no clear directions on what it is I’m supposed to do in order to cure the violation. There’s only a threat of getting a fine,” he said.
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Jim Morrison manages Brooklyn restaurant The Exley.
“What’s been difficult for us is managing the changing rules and regulations that seem to be coming down by the minute sometimes,” he said.
The Exley was given a cease-and-desist letter, but he says they had to track down the DOT for an explanation.
“To use that language as sort of a weapon against businesses that are part of the community is difficult because at the end of the day, all we wanna do is play our part,” Morrison said. “A little bit of advocacy on the part of small businesses and bars and restaurants would be huge.”
Trying to serve as that advocate is Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn.
“The city was not clear in their guidelines, and then they come in and there’s multiple agencies telling these businesses different things, so there’s a lot of confusion. We need to have more clarity,” Malliotakis said.
She wrote a letter urging the mayor to provide that clarity on outdoor dining regulations.
Malliotakis says the mayor’s office acknowledged receipt of the letter but hasn’t responded.
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CBS2 asked the mayor what’s being done to help provide better guidance for these restaurants.
“We’re working with those restaurants to do it. It’s not contentious, it’s cooperative, but the message I’ve sent to DOT and all our agencies is help restaurants get to a positive solution,” de Blasio said. “Any restaurant owner that is having a problem that you don’t feel you’re getting the right cooperation, please call 311.”
“Passing this off to 311 is not the answer. He needs to show up and talk to us directly,” VanCouten said.
CBS2 asked the DOT about the violations. It said an inspector is supposed to tell the restaurants what is wrong in person, stating in some cases no one was there to speak to the inspector.
VanCouten says in his experience, that’s not the case and he couldn’t get a clear explanation on site.
The DOT did however return Friday and say the restaurant was in compliance.
These restaurant owners say all they’re asking is for a little more help so city establishments can survive.