NYC suspends outdoor dining over expected snowstorm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — After a ban on indoor dining took effect in New York City, a winter storm set to hit the area mid-week is also suspending outdoor dining operations.

The indoor dining restrictions took effect Monday and will last for "the foreseeable future" in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he took the action reluctantly in the face of rising hospitalizations.

Outdoor dining along with takeout and delivery service is still permitted.

But a major snowstorm forecast to bring at least six inches of snow on Wednesday is forcing restaurants to also close down outdoor dining after the city's sanitation department issued a snow alert late Monday evening in an effort to facilitate the city's snow clearing operations.

Restaurants are being told they'll have to remove or secure outdoor furniture and electric heaters by 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The measures are meant to help snow plows get around.

"We've been very clear to the restaurant community that when we're getting a larger storm, secure everything that could be secured so obviously it doesn't blow around and doesn't create a danger to anyone. And if you have the kind of outdoor dining set up that you could bring it all in, that's ideal, and if you don't, if it's a restaurant that really has built something much more substantial, they can leave it there, but secure everything they can secure," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. "Bring in what you can, if you really can't, we will certainly work around it."

The city will notify restaurants when they could reopen roadway seating for outdoor dining.

"Based on the current forecast, the city estimates that this Snow Alert will be over on Thursday evening, allowing restaurants to reopen, but this may change to the morning of Friday, December 18 based on actual accumulations and roadway conditions," the sanitation department said.

A snow alert is issued when an inch or more of snow or ice is in the forecast. Wednesday's storm could dump at least six inches of snow across the five boroughs.

"If we are in a snow alert, an official snow alert, outdoor dining must cease. So the restaurants can't serve inside those outdoor dining structures while we're in an alert status," Acting Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said.

The pandemic has already had a devastating impact on the struggling restaurant industry and the winter could only make things worse.

The city is home to roughly 24,000 restaurants, and owners warned of layoffs and closures if they were limited to takeout orders and outdoor dining this winter.

"The winter and the snow is going to really impact business' ability to survive," Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance said. "Hopefully we'll have a mild winter like we did last and there won't be too much snow, but if we get hit with a lot of snow, it's going to pose even more challenges for restaurants because people may not want to eat outside if it's too cold and if there's a lot of snow they're going to have to shutdown outdoor dining operations for the ctiy to come out to clear there streets."

Experts say thousands of restaurants in the city have already closed their doors for good during the pandemic and thousands more could follow if the federal government doesn't provide relief money for restaurant owners.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.