Outdoor Dining Is Here to Stay: 2 Licenses Available to City Restaurants

Written by: Alan Nochumson

Outdoor dining has long been a part of the dining culture in Philadelphia, from the sidewalk awnings of cheesesteak shops and water ice stands of South and West Philadelphia, to the café tables and umbrellas lining the street in Rittenhouse Square.

At the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and, currently to this day, outdoor dining has provided a lifeline to the restaurant industry when public health restrictions limited indoor seating. Now, the once-temporary outdoor dining program has been made permanent with the passage of Bill 210776. This governmental program, which incorporated feedback from restaurant owners and residents alike, allows restaurant establishments to provide outdoor seating on designated city sidewalks and streets.

The new governmental program offers two different outdoor dining licenses:

  • Sidewalk Café License: Allows eligible restaurant establishments to occupy sections of the sidewalk in front of their storefront for outdoor dining. This license grants restaurant establishments the privilege of additional seating while maintain adequate sidewalk access for pedestrians and those with disabilities, while also regulating for issues like noise and cleanliness standards.
  • Streetery License: Allows eligible restaurant establishments to occupy a designated portion of the parking lane on authorized city streets in front of the restaurant establishment. This license includes provisions for furniture, shelters, enclosures and crash-worthy protective barriers. Streeteries are only permitted “by-right” in designated commercial areas throughout the city to ensure that residential areas are less effected by the noise and other impacts of streeteries.

Steetery License Application Details

The city has created the following site requirements for restaurant establishments considering the streetery license in order to ensure the streetery will not compromise public safety:

  • Streeteries can only exist in the parking lane directly in front of the business that holds the city-issued food license.
  • Streeteries can only be located in spaces that do not compromise the deployment of emergency vehicles from fire stations, police stations and emergency medical facilities.
  • Streeteries can only be set up in parking spaces adjacent to travel lanes that are 12 feet or wider so that emergency vehicles may travel unobstructed.
  • Streeteries must have a 30-foot safety buffer zone from intersections with stoplights or stops signs, or 20-foot safety buffer zones that do not have stoplights or stop signs.
  • Streeteries must have a 15-foot safety buffer zone from fire hydrants, and a five-foot safety buffer zone from manholes, water inlets, or any other utility or ventilation access points.

The governmental program also prohibits the use of propane tanks and open flames for heating, the use of shipping containers for streety structures, and the use of electric service coming from outside of the streetery, like an extension cord running from a building. In addition, all streeteries must provide at least one ADA-accessible table of 5% of the available steetery seating space, whichever is greater, and an ADA-accessible route from the sidewalk to the ADA-accessible seating area.

Furthermore, the governmental program created operational requirements for streeteries as well. Streeteries can only operate from 7a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays, and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Streeteries may only be used for serving customers food and beverages coming from the business’ licensed preparation area. Finally, streeteries, at all times, must remain free of food scraps, spill stains, litter and odors.

Applications for the streetery license are now available through the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspection’s eCLIPSE system and must be renewed annually. The governmental application has a $200 nonrefundable fee credited toward to the $1,750 fee for a streetery license. This $1,750 fee must be paid annually to renew the streetery license. To be eligible, applicants must have a commercial activity license, a business income and receipts tax identification number, a valid food preparation and serving license, and be either tax compliant with the city of Philadelphia or on an approved tax repayment plan with the city of Philadelphia.

Regardless of whether applicants plan to build the streetery on a platform, in a structure, or simply on the pavement, they must first obtain pre-requisite approval from the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Streets via an online form on the Department of Streets’ website. If the applicant is proposing a structure for its streetery, the Department of Streets will automatically request approval from the city of Philadelphia’s Art Commission. With approval from the Art Commission, the Department of Streets will then issue a prerequisite approval letter. The remainder of the application process occurs on eCLIPSE. For applicants proposing a structure, the Department of Licenses and Inspections will visit the site and issue a building permit if the structure is approved. If the structure is approved, or no structure is proposed, the Department of Licenses and Inspections will issue a streetery license after an inter-agency review. If the Department of Licenses and Inspections ultimately approves the governmental application, a streetery license will be issued through eCLIPSE and must be posed at the site within public view.

The city of Philadelphia recently published a streetery license guide, which details the governmental program’s goals, site requirements, placement requirements, structural and operational requirements and more.

Sidewalk Café License Application Details

Sidewalk Cafés are regulated by Section 9-208 of the Philadelphia Code, which includes guidelines for license applications, sidewalk café placement, sidewalk café maintenance and more.

More specifically, Section 9-208(6) states that: all sidewalk cafés must be easily removable; they must be at the same elevation as the existing sidewalk surface; they must not be within 15 feet of a transit stop; and there must be a clear egress space maintained between the exit door(s) of the structure and the clear sidewalk space.

Section 9-208(7), regarding the maintenance of sidewalk cafés states that: no sidewalk café shall be operated between the hours of 12 a.m. and 8 a.m.; that the sidewalk café license does not create any vested property right in the sidewalk area to which the license applies; and that the issuance of a sidewalk café license does not permit outdoor cooking or outdoor storage of flammable materials.

Applications for a sidewalk café license are now available on the eCLIPSE system. Applicants are required to have an approved café plot plan, business income and receipts tax identification number, a commercial activity license number, a food preparation and serving license. If approved, the Department of Streets’ right-of-way unit will issue an agreement to be signed by the applicant. In addition, applicants must be compliant with all tax obligations to the city of Philadelphia or be a party to an approved repayment plan with Philadelphia. There is a $186 fee for initially applying for the sidewalk café license and thereafter a $186 annual renewal fee.

Importantly, if a restaurant establishment wishes to offer outdoor seating on the sidewalk and in a parking lane, they must obtain both a streetery license and sidewalk café license.


Victor Adeniran, a second-year law student at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law, who is interning at the firm, assisted in the preparation of this article.

Alan Nochumson is the sole shareholder of Nochumson P.C., a legal services firm with a focus on real estate, land use & zoning, litigation, and business counseling for the people of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Nochumson is a frequent author and lecturer on issues commonly confronting businesses, individuals and professionals. You can reach him at 215-399-1346 or alan.nochumson@nochumson.com.

Alex Goldberg is an associate attorney at the firm. You can reach him at 215-399-1346 or alex.goldberg@nochumson.com.

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