The City’s expanded outdoor dining initiative has enabled hundreds of restaurants across Philadelphia to earn much-needed revenue by offering outdoor dining, safely. In June, the City launched four new options for restaurants to operate outdoor dining.

As the weather gets cooler, new challenges are presented for restaurants. The City has been developing guidance and best practices as businesses prepare to offer outdoor dining through the colder months. 

The new guidelines—which address shelter and heating specifications—provide businesses with as much flexibility as possible, consistent with the Philadelphia Fire Code and current COVID-19 safety measures.

Shelter

To provide shelter in the right of way, restaurants must obtain a right-of-way permit from the Department of Streets. This will facilitate access for first responders, snow and trash removal, street and utility repairs, and keeping SEPTA routes clear.

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.

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

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.

Heating

Heaters powered by electricity, propane, or natural gas are authorized in outdoor dining areas only if they are 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. 

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. Kerosene fires are prohibited in all outdoor dining areas.

Keeping Philadelphians safe while dining outside

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.

It’s important to note that as the course of the virus is still unpredictable through the winter months, changes may have to be made to this guidance — and the rules around outdoor/indoor dining are subject to change at any time.

To apply for a tent or building permit from L&I, you can use the eCLIPSE system at any time or make an appointment to visit L&I to apply in person. More information about using eCLIPSE is available here. Approval from the Streets Department for use of the right of way is required prior to issuance of the tent or building permit.

If you are a business owner and have questions about applying for or operating outdoor dining, please email business@phila.gov.

If you are a resident and believe a business is not following the guidance listed above, please contact Philly311 by dialing 3-1-1 or submitting a report online.