Philly restaurants express frustration with ‘streetery’ regulations

Outdoor dining at Booker’s Restaurant and Bar

Outdoor dining at Booker’s Restaurant and Bar in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Streeteries have been a godsend for Philly restaurants during the last two very challenging pandemic years, but restaurant owners are not happy with proposed new regulations.

Dozens of restaurant owners seemed quite unified in their belief in the power streeteries have had in boosting business. They were also of one voice Wednesday afternoon in opposition to Philadelphia’s plans to more closely regulate the outdoor dining spots.

For nearly two hours Wednesday, restaurateurs from all over the city argued against the new regulations, describing them as “overwhelming and prohibitive” at a virtual meeting of the city’s Department of Streets and Department of Licenses and Inspections.

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The added regulations — including a $2,200 annual license fee, a $60,000 security bond, and a requirement that structures be taken down before inclement weather — come at a really bad time, said Nate Ross, owner of New Wave Café in Queen Village.

“We’ve really been stressed” after dealing with two years of the pandemic, Ross said. “We just came out of having to deal with checking people’s papers, their vaccination cards, getting yelled at and screamed at by the occasional a**hole … I just want to see it be easier and less stressful on us.”

Doug Hager, owner of Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street among other spots in the city, echoed those thoughts, and said the new rules come just as the weather is turning and streeteries should be booming.

“If you push these regulations through now, it will be just in time to shut down just about every streetery in the city for our peak business,” Hager said. “Let’s think about this together and come up with a plan that’s inclusive and works for the greater good, not just a few. We’re not saying no to regulations, but just involve us in the development of such.”

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Many restaurant owners expressed their displeasure with the one-size-fits-all fee charged regardless of the size of the outdoor dining spot.

“Reconsider this annual fee,” said Zak Pyzik, with the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Pyzik said the city did not properly notify restaurants of some of the details of the new rules.

“We weren’t notified of the initial regulations being posted until weeks after,” he said. “We feel strongly that many operators in the city continue to be surprised by announcements.”

After hearing the complaints, city regulators will compile a report from Wednesday’s meeting. That report could include amendments to the regulations based on the public testimony, but there’s no timetable for the report to be issued. Once it is published, there would be a 10-day window before the regulations took effect.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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