Limited Seating: New Haven Restaurants Prep for Outdoor Dining

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Sidewalk seating outside of downtown restaurants usually comes with a price tag.  Right now, New Haven city officials are in discussions about that fee as struggling restaurants decide what to do on May 20 to meet the new opening options.  

“Either I come out and suffer the consequences or I stay in and suffer the consequences, so either way there are consequences and neither of them are pretty,” said Gopi Nair, owner of Tikkaway on Orange Street.

For the last several years he has rented one of the city’s eight mobile outdoor seating options called a “terrasse.” It sat out front of the restaurant in a metered parking space.

With revenue down 20-25 percent, he says not sure he’ll bring it back. He used it as a marketing tool to help the appearance on Orange Street and attract new customers. Now, the rental fees and parking space charges are weighing heavily on his decision.

“If it costs me anything then I would not,” said Nair.

He said he would consider filing an application for sidewalk dining if health officials say it’s safe.

“I think that all of our businesses are working really hard to pivot and adapt to this new environment that they’re presented with,” said Win Davis, executive director of Town Green District.

There are only eight terrasses available through the downtown district, so the city is considering making other space available.

“We’re also looking at just using a parking space with a little bit more of a ramp to provide more space for outdoor dining,” said Michael Piscitelli, Economic Development Administrator.  

Whether it’s a sidewalk or mobile station, work is underway to make outdoor seating affordable and accessible for restaurants.

“Each block is very different in downtown. So we’re looking at each block to try and figure out the best ways to assist businesses and help the community on each block,” said Davis.

A third option for outdoor seating is open space in Temple and Pitkin Plazas. Trinity and Temple Grill each have licenses for those spaces, and other restaurants may be interested as well. The Shops at Yale will also offer free 2 hour parking with a receipt.

The city plans to hold a webinar for restaurants Thursday to help explain options. And a team will come together to help better process outdoor seating applications from restaurants.

“We’ll go through a screening process with zoning to ensure it’s safe and appropriately set up,” said Piscitelli.

Davis says they’re waiting on official rules from city and state health officials to help guide downtown restaurants.

“Once we understand what we are tasked with doing then we will go about operationalizing everything,” said Davis.

Officials say as they work through the outdoor process, they’re a focus on continuing curbside pickup and making parking for that more accessible.  

“We’re going to be much more visible in supporting takeout and ways to get right to the curbside, so businesses that have been working really hard to raise their profile have ways for people to pull up and do a bit of grab and go as well,” said Piscitelli.

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