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Outdoor dining rendering
Photography: Rockwell Group

This is what outdoor dining may soon look like in NYC

How restaurants and bars hope to expand their footprint with al fresco dining.

Written by
Bao Ong

It’s still unclear when New York City will begin Phase 1 of reopening, but restaurants and bars are already putting more pressure on government officials to expand outdoor seating options. Yesterday, the city council introduced an outdoor dining bill, and now we’ve begun seeing what the future of al fresco dining may look like across the city.

The Rockwell Group, one of the most prolific firms responsible for designing numerous New York restaurants (including the recent Peak Restaurant at Hudson Yards), worked with the NYC Hospitality Alliance to offer up renderings of what restaurants and bars could consider moving forward. The sketches were part of yesterday’s press conference and showed designs incorporating social distancing protocols, hand sanitizer stations and even flexible designs that allow businesses to set up on sidewalks, streets (the city keeps rolling out more temporary closures) and even parking lots.

Outdoor dining Negril rendering
Photograph: Rockwell Group

“We knew from the first days of this pandemic that we would have to make adjustments to how we dine out until the solution to the virus is resolved from a medical standpoint,” said David Rockwell, Rockwell Group’s founder and president, said in a statement. “We feel very fortunate to be in a position to work with the NYC Hospitality Alliance and many restaurant operators to assist at this critical moment.”

Once dining rooms reopen, restaurant owners expect that they will have to reduce the number of people they can seat at one time, which hits their bottom line.

Outdoor dining rendering at Melba's
Photograph: Rockwell Group

“At least during the summer and fall, when outdoor dining is possible, we should look at better utilizing indoor and outdoor space,” adds Melba Wilson, who owns Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem and is president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Gensler outdoor dining rendering
Photograph: Courtesy of Gensler

At Gensler, one of the largest architecture firms in the world, there have been countless discussions about how to provide clients with social distance-friendly design plans. One concept that’s been floated around is a so-called “Alone / Together Pop-Up” concept, where a table for two also features a ledge for placing drinks. When the seating arrangements are lined up, however, it aims to mimic a long dining table to recreate the feel of communal dining.

“We are New Yorkers, and we miss dining out. We miss people watching, we miss spotting that couple on their first date, we miss borrowing the salt shaker, we miss seeing and being seen,” says Siobhan Barry, a design director and senior associate at Gensler. “Alone / Together is a pop-up restaurant that is about bridging citizens and getting us back to dining together—at a distance.”

Outdoor dining Vinium
Photograph: Rockwell Group
Outdoor dining rendering
Photograph: Rockwell Group

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