Philly issues guidance for restaurants offering outdoor dining in cold weather

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Thursday, October 15, 2020
Philly announces new guidelines for outdoor dining
The restaurant guidelines focus on shelter and heating specifications

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The City of Philadelphia has announced guidelines concerning restaurants offering outdoor dining as the weather gets cooler.

The guidelines focus on shelter and heating specifications.


For shelter, the city says restaurants must obtain a right-of-way permit from the Streets Department.

"This will facilitate access for first responders, snow and trash removal, street and utility repairs, and keeping SEPTA routes clear," the city says.

According to the guidelines, prefabricated tents and canopies with pliable material overhead can be put up without a building permit.

A building permit must be obtained before constructing a custom-built shelter with a roof and/or sides more than 48 inches high.

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A tent permit and inspection are required to confirm the safety and stability of heated tents and all tents larger than 400 square feet.

The city says outdoor space enclosed by three or more walls and a roof will be subject to public health requirements for indoor dining, including the 50 percent occupancy restriction.


Heaters powered by electricity, propane, or natural gas are authorized in outdoor dining areas, but with some caveats.

The city says the heaters must be manufactured for outdoor use, installed safely, and at least three (electric) or five (propane, natural gas) feet from combustible materials.

New electrical connections will require an electrical permit.

"The Fire Code allows heating under tents via forced air ducts. A tent permit and inspection are required," the city says.

According to the guidelines, fire pits and other fires produced by burning solid fuels are prohibited entirely in the right of way. They cannot be used near or under tents or other shelters.

"Such fires may be permissible on private property only if they are in safe, approved containers at least 15 feet from any type of structure," the city says.

Kerosene fires are prohibited in all outdoor dining areas.

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Safety Measures

The city says winterized outdoor dining spaces must continue to follow existing social distancing and public safety measures, as outlined in guidance by the Department of Public Health for restaurants and the specific guidance for outdoor dining.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Spacing tables, and the backs of all chairs (when seated), a minimum of six feet apart.
  • Maintaining pedestrian and traffic safety, including a clear path (six feet wide) of travel for pedestrian flow.
  • Maintaining clear access to public utilities, fire hydrants, building entrances, crosswalks, and transit stops.
  • Hours of operation are limited to 8 a.m. - midnight, with last call for food and drink at 11 p.m.
  • No cooking or food preparation in the right of way.
  • Appropriate lighting is required at night.
  • Moveable furniture on streets and sidewalks must be labeled as property of the business and must be moved inside or secured to ground when not in use.
  • Establishments with fewer than 20 tables total must make at least one table ADA accessible. Establishments with more than 20 tables total must make 5 percent of tables ADA accessible.
  • Deliveries and waste and recycling collections must be conducted safely and in a way that does not impact social distancing, ADA regulations, or safe circulation by pedestrians, bikes, or vehicles.
  • Outdoor operations can be shut down if they are a nuisance to neighbors.

Since June 15, the city has issued 735 temporary approvals for sidewalk cafes, streeteries in the curb lane, or expansions onto privately owned parking areas and vacant lots.

"This is in addition to dozens of periodic street closures to further support outdoor dining," the city says.

The temporary approvals, currently in force through December 31, 2020, would remain valid through December 31, 2021, under a bill currently before City Council.