Sidewalk cafe at Cross Keys Cafe

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Been to a good “streetery” lately? That’s the word Philadelphia is using for curbside parking converted into an al fresco seating area — one of the options for restaurants looking to launch outdoor dining.

While the city is under Gov. Wolf’s “yellow” phase of reopening and Mayor Kenney’s “safer at home” order, no indoor dining is allowed at all. Starting Friday, June 12, restaurants can offer table service on site, as long as it’s outside.

Hours of operation are limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m, and several other restrictions still apply, like mandated face coverings for staff and social distancing for customers. But for an industry that had been restricted to takeout only, this should allow establishments to greatly ramp up sales.

That’s great for the spots in the city that already have a patio, backyard, roof deck, garden or permit for a sidewalk cafe. (The Inquirer’s Michael Klein is compiling a list here.)

What about the many that don’t already have open-air space?

Philly just rolled out a bunch of possible ways to quickly add it. Each requires a separate permit application, which will be online late Friday.

Options for adding outdoor seating fall into four categories.

Sidewalk cafe

One of the most common kinds of outdoor dining in Center City, popularized back in the 1990s by Neil Stein at Rouge, this is what it sounds like. Tables and chairs are set up directly on the concrete sidewalk in front of the business address.

Application turnaround time: The city will try to issue permits within three days of receiving applications, according to Deputy Managing Director Mike Carroll. That’s a lot faster than normal — this kind of permit usually takes at least several weeks to get.


Just like the parklets that pop up each year on the annual PARK(ing) Day, this is where curbside parking gets turned into a dining space. It can happen directly on the street, per city guidance, or a restaurateur can apply to build a platform that elevates diners slightly from the pavement. This can also be used as a stand to sell takeaway food and drinks.

Application turnaround time: Three days is the goal for this also, Carroll said.

Private lots

If a restaurant has a parking lot, or if there’s a vacant lot adjacent to its storefront, that can be turned into a patio of sorts. A $30 fee for closing an existing lot will have to be paid, and permission from neighbors and property owners is also required if the space isn’t part of the original restaurant. It’s available to operators in most commercial and mixed-use zoning districts.

Application turnaround time: This option will require a zoning permit as part of the application, which Carroll said would be expedited, though he didn’t give a specific time frame.

Street closure

When groups of neighboring restaurants band together to close down their entire street for dining. Unlike many other towns and cities around the nation, Philly isn’t just letting this happen for weeks on end. There’s a limit of 60 hours on how long any given roadway can remain closed — think of this as a weekend option. It will begin this summer, and is likely to be approved on heavily-trafficked commercial corridors.

Application turnaround time: These applications will take a bit longer than sidewalk cafes, said Deputy Managing Director Carroll. He gave a hopeful timeframe of 5 to 10 business days for approval.

Other rules and regulations

Whether they have existing outdoor space or are adding something new, all restaurants offering outdoor dining need to follow social distancing and other safety and accessibility rules.

Here’s the city’s short list of rules to remember:

  • Backs of chairs when people are sitting in them must be a minimum of 6 feet from each other
  • Sidewalk table arrangements must allow for a clear path for people to pass by, at least 6 feet wide
  • No blocking fire hydrants, building entrances, crosswalks, transit stops or public utilities
  • Food prep and cooking cannot happen in the outdoor seating area or the public right of way, although regular heaters are allowed
  • Lighting is required if serving at night
  • Furniture must be clearly labeled as belonging to the restaurant, and must be locked down or brought inside when not in use
  • Tents are prohibited on the sidewalk or curbside spots. They are allowed in lots.
  • ADA accessible seating must be available: either 5% of the total or at least 1 table if there’s fewer than 20 total tables
  • Trash and deliveries can’t impact social distancing, ADA regulations or passage by pedestrians, bikes or vehicles

Also, proprietors will need to make sure their clientele is respectful of the neighborhood, because if the city gets complaints, outdoor operations can be shut down.

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.