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By Alex Agudelo
Outdoor dining has continued to open up around Long Island since COVID-19 restrictions have minimized indoor capacity. With the summer coming up, outdoor dining is coming back in a big way. In March, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino and members of the Town Board announced they are waiving all fees in relation to outdoor dining. Those permit fees can range from $25 to thousands of dollars. The hope is that waiving these fees will encourage more safe dining and help restaurants remain profitable.
Saladino said town officials have “worked tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to help local businesses come back safely and effectively.” He added, “We cut the red tape, waived fees and allowed for new outdoor dining options for restaurant patrons, helping owners open safely and successfully.”
Many diners are also looking forward to eating outside in warmer temperatures. Long Island resident Amanda Henson said, “Now that the weather is nicer, I enjoy dining outside with friends.” However, Henson noted that the experience of eating outside reminded her of the change in daily life that the pandemic has caused.
With last summer’s increase in outdoor dining, investing in outdoor equipment helped many restaurants, such as Mario’s Pizzeria in Plainview, to stay open.
A manager of Mario’s Pizzeria, Peter Spanos, said the waiving the outdoor dining fees is “very appropriate, given the circumstances. I think it’s very nice of them to help deal with the situation.” He also highlighted that “they have come out with a few grants as well for using outdoor equipment.” However, Spanos said Mario’s did not receive those grants, “We didn’t make the cut, which is sad.”
The pandemic has severely affected restaurants, with many needing to close their dining rooms and some having to lay off employees. According to the Office of The New York State Comptroller, on average more than 44 percent of restaurants have used outdoor dining as a way to have more people dine out.
While restaurants on Long Island and throughout New York State can currently open at 75% capacity for indoor dining, it was not always this way. Capacity at restaurants had been limited to 25% throughout New York state during much of the pandemic.
Spanos reflected on the restaurant in 2020, “Business was off by 70%. The dining room was closed all of March, April, and part of May, so that was a huge loss to us.” Mario’s also has take-out and delivery options, which enabled the restaurant to stay in business during the hard times.
Another Mario’s manager, Narcis Bajdechi, said the business “has been affected in every way. Everybody is suffering, a lot of people closed their business, and we’re lucky we survived.” The restaurant did rely on outdoor dining to keep customers coming in during the pandemic.
For the upcoming summer season, it appears that outdoor dining will be just as important as last year. Removing fees from outdoor dining will help the businesses grow and succeed. Bajdechi agreed, saying, “With the industry the way it is, I think this is a step forward, and it should encourage people to come out.”
Spanos said that getting rid of these fees would “absolutely help.” He explained that “it’s already an additional cost. We spent $10,000 last year in tents. So, adding fees on top of that only hurts more.”
Bajdechi added, “Absolutely, I wouldn’t put any fees on the outside tents. I would be thankful if people come and have food here.”