Photo: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty

It has already happened once this season, and this week, it is forecast to happen again: Snow is on the way. In a normal year, this would not be an issue for restaurants, who generally serve diners inside. But this is the year of the streetery. And while many restaurants have gone all out winterizing their outdoor dining setups, investing in everything from heat lamps to personal greenhouses, there are forces beyond their control. For example, the weather.

To “better allow for continued operations for Open Restaurants participants” — that is, restaurants who’ve built out outdoor dining arrangements — the Department of Sanitation has issued new guidelines that clarify how and when restaurants can serve in the snow. (And, perhaps more important, when they cannot.)

I thought outdoor dining was “permanent.” If I want to sit out in the snow to eat lunch, can I do that?
Not exactly. There are new street-cleaning and snow-plowing regulations in place that you will want to know about before you throw on your snowsuit.

What if it’s only snowing a little bit?
If there’s only a touch of winter weather in the forecast — “generally under an inch of total accumulation” of snow and/or ice — then the DSNY will issue a “Winter Operations Advisory.” Abstractly, that means that “winter weather is possible, and the Department is prepared to respond.” Practically speaking, that means roadway dining may continue, but restaurants “should take steps to protect patrons, staff, and property.” During a Winter Operations Advisory, the DSNY “may spread salt and/or brine on the roadway to prevent freezing,” but isn’t going to plow.

And if it’s supposed to snow a lot?
When more than an inch of snow or ice is in the forecast, the DSNY issues a Snow Alert. A Snow Alert means “roadway dining MUST CLOSE by the time indicated in the Alert.” The restaurant must “remove or secure” outdoor furniture, remove electric heaters, and remove the tops of structures “if possible.”

But the basic structures can stay? Turns out I sort of like eating in makeshift sidewalk cabins.
Not always. If the forecast calls for a foot or more of snow, then restaurants need to “remove or consolidate structures, including barriers, to take up as little space as possible.” This makes it easier for plows to get through, the DSNY explains, and also hopefully helps protect restaurant property.

When can restaurants start serving again, après snow?
“The City will announce when the Snow Alert is over and roadway dining may safely resume.” But as Gothamist points out, that might not be quite as immediate as one might hope: “Any potential snow-related suspension of outdoor dining could last days, depending on how much snow falls and how long it takes the Sanitation Department to clear the roads.”

Here is a DSNY video to get you in the mood:

When will this take effect?
Now! The city has issued its inaugural Winter Operations Advisory for today, Monday, December 14, 2020. And it’s possible the situation will escalate: Meteorologists say six to ten inches of snow could potentially hit the city Wednesday night and Thursday morning. That would trigger a Snow Alert and temporarily close outdoor dining. Restaurants would be able to remain open for takeout and delivery.

And no matter what, I should tip well?
Correct. Be as generous as you possibly can.