Ali Sahim, the owner of Cafe C and B, was hopeful outdoor seating would help boost his business, which has suffered because of the pandemic.
"I applied for the license, which was given to me on June 22 without any guidance," Sahim said.
The city issued regulations three days later, requiring protective barriers at least 18 inches wide and reflective traffic markers. But then a city inspector said the eatery’s setup was not in compliance because its barriers had gaps, a no-no that was not in the regulations.
Sahim fixed it, but was told the next day that he still wasn't in compliance, without explanation. So he says he gave up.
Now, the wooden structure he built for outdoor seating is filled with flowers and plants.
"I believe the city hasn't got it together yet, and I really don't, personally, don't want to deal with it," Sahim said.
Joe LaRocca has faced similar frustrations at his Bay Ridge, Brooklyn restaurant.
"They constantly evolve the rules, and it's at an expense to the business owner," he said.
Inspectors flagged the lights on his trees as an issue, even though there are no power cords running across the sidewalk.
He says an inspector also told him tents he has are not allowed, and that the city will only accept umbrellas attached to a table with a weighted base like these.
LaRocca owns two restaurants here in Brooklyn and one on Staten Island. He says he's spent several thousand dollars on the tents, and hopes the DOT changes its regulations again before he has to replace them.
About 7,600 restaurants have received licenses for outdoor dining.
The Mayor's Office tells NY1 that the safety of diners is its highest priority, but it couldn't say how many violations have been issued so far.
A spokesperson told us owners with questions about the guidelines should call the Small Business Services hotline for clarity. That number is 888-727-4692.