Why NYC Restaurants Keep Investing in Outdoor Setups Despite the Return of Indoor Dining

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LastLast summer, Midtown brasserie Quality Bistro cobbled together a row of sun-shaded tables and chairs on the sidewalk along West 55th Street, called it an outdoor patio, and launched open-air dining for the first time. Come winter, sturdy, white tents were erected over the tables and chairs, chandeliers were hung, a checkerboard floor was laid over the sidewalk, some potted plants were added in the corners, and the outdoor patio transformed into a heated outdoor winter garden.

Now, in a third level-up that is “really bonkers,” as co-founder Michael Stillman puts it, the company installed a row of 14 private cabins covered in greenery in front of the restaurant, to add onto the tents, wooden benches and shaded tables for two lining the curb.

Stillman estimates that altogether, his restaurant group Quality Branded — which includes six other spots including casual steakhouse Quality Eats and Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Don Angie — has spent $300,000 to $400,000 on outdoor dining facilities at Quality Bistro. Altogether, the group has spent between $750,000 to $1 million on outdoor dining across the company.

New York City’s outdoor dining program has been a — yes — bonkers ride over the past twelve months. What started as a haphazard collection of tables and chairs set up in blocked-off parking spaces has evolved into a seemingly non-negotiable extension of running a restaurant in NYC. There are local construction companies dedicated to building outdoor dining shelters. New restaurants are baking outdoor dining setups into their startup costs. For those who can afford it, the constant upgrading of outdoor dining — still only a temporary allowance in the city — hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down as indoor capacity restrictions have loosened.

“It’s like the face of the restaurant now,” says Lisa Limb, co-owner of the West Village sushi spot Nami Nori.