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People sitting on alfresco tables outside the Dolphin hotel with umbrellas above
Photograph: Supplied/City of Sydney

It looks like Sydney's outdoor dining boom is here to stay

The NSW government and City of Sydney are pumping millions more into the scheme which hopes to draw punters back to city venues

Divya Venkataraman

This past summer's boom in alfresco dining, encouraged by the City of Sydney's free, fast-tracked application process for outdoor planning approvals, was an initiative that had many Sydneysiders scratching their heads, wondering why it took a pandemic to make such a no-brainer concept happen. Our sun-drenched city took to breezy outdoors eating and drinking like fish to water (or, rather, a chilled glass of rosé). 

A total of 204 permits were granted and 2,690 square metres of space approved under the NSW government and City of Sydney’s initial $20 million commitment to support revitalisation of the CBD after the lockdown of March 2020. Now, having seen the "game-changer" effect the approvals have had on the city, the initiative is set to expand.

The City of Sydney is set to waive all alfresco dining permit fees until June 2022, and give a further $5.7 million to outdoor activations and an additional $2.2 million for inner city events. It's all in tandem with the NSW government, which has worked with the City to streamline the application process and make it easier for businesses to set up tables and chairs in laneways, footpaths and parking bays. 

A survey of businesses who participated in the pilot program to date led to a finding that 90% found that outdoor dining was "beneficial or even crucial to their business". 

“Waiving outdoor dining fees was one of the first things we did when the pandemic hit Sydney, to make it easier for restaurants, bars and cafés to operate while encouraging physical distancing,” Sydney's lord mayor Clover Moore says. “People have really embraced it, with participating businesses telling us they've taken on extra staff and seen increased patronage – a crucial aid to staying afloat in these difficult times. 

“By working with the state government to cut through red tape and waive fees for outdoor dining permits, we’re supporting local businesses and allowing visitors, residents and workers to enjoy new outdoor dining experiences.

“Covid is not over, and neither is our economic recovery. So to support business and keep people healthy, outdoor dining will be free at least until the end of the financial year.” 

Want to drink and dine in the fresh air? Here are our favourite outdoor dining spots in Sydney

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