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Restaurant Neon Sign
  • Writer's pictureMark Stumer



Having a sidewalk cafe can greatly enhance the ambience of your restaurant, increase its revenues, and can have a number of other positive affects on your establishment.

GENERAL RULE: To legally operate a portion of a restaurant on a public sidewalk, you must obtain a sidewalk cafe license and revocable consent to use the sidewalk space from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. This license is renewable every two years and the license fee is determined by the size of the cafe and the location of your establishment.

The three types of sidewalk cafe’s are the: (i) enclosed cafe, (ii) unenclosed cafe, and (iii) small unenclosed cafe. Only restaurants on the ground floor are allowed to have cafes and design criteria for each type are based on the availability of free space on the sidewalk. Pedestrian traffic is a concern and there are specific measurements that must be met regarding distance from trees, parking meters, fire hydrants and other obstructions.

Regardless of the type of sidewalk cafe, (i) there must a minimum three foot Service Aisle for staff within the cafe, (ii) waiters are not permitted to serve diners from the public sidewalk, only from the designated wait service aisle, and (iii) all sidewalk cafes must maintain a minimum clear path of eight (8) feet between the outer limit of the cafe and any other object near the curb.

However, there are certain areas in New York City that are sidewalk cafe blackout zones where they simply are not permitted regardless of free sidewalk space, zoning, etc. If you are signing a lease with the intention to operate a sidewalk cafe at the premise, be sure to contact a qualified attorney or the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Sidewalk Cafe Unit prior to signing that lease to ensure that you are not within one of these blackout zones and that the premise is otherwise suitable for such a license.

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