Philadelphia City Council approves bill to ease streetery setup

Council passed legislation to streamline the streetery approval process and create ‘navigators’ to help businesses through red tape.

A Philadelphia street closed for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic in Rittenhouse Square.

A Philadelphia street closed for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic in Rittenhouse Square. Jumping Rocks/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It soon could be the summer of streeteries in the City of Philadelphia. 

City Council unanimously approved legislation Thursday modifying the city’s requirements and standards related to outdoor dining in an effort to streamline the process for businesses, including the creation of “navigators” to assist businesses in cutting through red tape. 

The legislation, introduced by Councilmember Rue Landau, will also allow outdoor seating to extend past a restaurant’s boundaries, with the written approval of a neighboring business. 

Landau said the bill gives “restaurants another lifeline as these small businesses continue to rebuild coming out of the pandemic.”

“I know that the restaurants and chefs that my office has been engaging with are very grateful for this step and we look forward to more,” Landau said during Thursday’s council session. 

Outdoor dining boomed during the pandemic, with more than 800 restaurants operating some form of an outdoor seating structure when the city was issuing temporary licenses allowing establishments to operate sidewalk cafes and street seating. But that number dropped soon after businesses resumed normal operations, with just 50 restaurants applying for streetery permits following the city enacting a permanent streeterie program that imposed stricter rules and fees.

Landau sought to rework the streetery application process, which culminated in the first-term councilmember calling for a hearing on the subject and the impact that streeteries have both economically and culturally. 

“Even though there were hundreds of restaurants that took advantage of outdoor dining options during the pandemic,” Landau said earlier this year, “very few have been able to keep them open under the new rules.” 

The city launched its Outdoor Dining Program in November 2022, offering an online registration portal for business owners to apply for an outdoor dining license. The regulations include placement requirements – which state that streeteries must have a buffer of at least five feet from manhole covers, 15 feet from fire hydrants and 30 feet from intersections with stop signs – as well as location restrictions that limit outdoor dining to specific areas of the city. 

Ben Fileccia, senior vice president of strategy and engagement at the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, has been a vocal critic of the city’s communication with business owners and is hopeful the program can begin to benefit more restaurants. 

Fileccia told City & State that businesses with narrow storefronts, on corners or in historic districts were “almost regulated out of having any type of streetery.” 

“We really want to start focusing on a more equitable solution for sidewalk seating and we want to make the whole permitting process easier to navigate for these folks,” Fileccia said. “It’s not going to look like Paris or a European city overnight, but as we work with City Council and all these operators and community leaders helping us, it’s slowly going to turn that way … I would love to see sidewalk seating by right for any restaurant that wants it.”