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October 15, 2020

As winter approaches, Philly adds new safety measures for outdoor dining

Officials release new guidance ahead of coming cold weather

Prevention COVID-19
philly outdoor dining winter Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Many dined out in Philadelphia during the summer and early fall months, and now the city is giving restaurants new guidance on outdoor dining in cold weather. (Note: The photo above was taken before the COVID-19 crisis.)

Philadelphia has announced new rules for restaurants that wish to continue outdoor dining in the coming colder months.

Rules for Philly restaurants were announced in a city guidance for winterization released Thursday. The guidelines were made to address the potential roadblocks restaurants will face as the weather changes, officials said.

Since June, the city has issued more than 700 temporary approvals to expand outdoor dining.

The new release focuses on additional rules for tents, canopies and other shelters, as well as outdoor heaters.

Sylvie Gallier Howard, acting director of commerce for Philadelphia, said in a press briefing Thursday that outdoor dining seems to be a big part of Philly restaurants' revenue during the pandemic. As such, the businesses have reason to take interest in new rules.

"What we've been hearing from restaurants over is that restaurants aren't really making money, they're just staying afloat," said Howard. "The outdoor dining is a big part of helping them do that."

Owners of local restaurants worked with city officials to craft the new winter safety measures, Howard said.

"A lot of the ideas to come out of our program have come from the restaurant industry. We've gotten detailed descriptions from the businesses and we incorporated a lot of them," she explained.

Below is a breakdown of the winter safety measures.

Rules for Shelters

During winter, there will be additional oversight regarding the building of temporary structures to allow for outdoor dining.

Restaurants may be tempted to reinforce their structures or build new ones that provide greater protection for cold weather conditions. However, certain reinforcements could turn an outdoor dining structure into an indoor dining one.

Michael Carroll, deputy managing director of Philadelphia's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, explained the rules regarding the structures in a briefing.

"Outdoor dining means essentially there is fresh air," said Carroll. "If you see people sitting outside in a bubble, that's not outdoor dining."

There will be three types of shelter options that are limited by rules like air exchange, number of walls, square footage and more that is outlined in the guidance.

Rules for Heating

Safety measures regarding heating structures were enacted to ensure that the makeshift shelters or anything under them – like guests – don't catch on fire.

Heaters must be placed five feet away from each other, away from combustible materials and comply with the Philadelphia Health Department's codes. 

Open flames or fire pits with coverings are not permitted in the "right of way," which is defined as "everything in between property lines, including sidewalks, streets, bike lanes, etc." Outdoor cooking is also prohibited.

Additional rules for heaters are provided in the guidance.

Existing Rules 

Restaurants must continue to follow existing rules for outdoor dining as winter approaches, officials said. The rules direct restaurants on capacity limits, face covering requirements, health screenings for employees and more. 

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley emphasized the importance to continue following health and safety guidelines during the fall cold season especially, and with a current rise in COVID-19 cases in Philly.

"I'm careful not to predict the future of this, but certainly most respiratory viruses get worse in the colder weather," said Farley. "There is a possibility this rise will continue, but some things make us more prepared than we were before, like in terms of mask use."

Even with new measures, there is still a risk of COVID-19 transmission when outdoor dining, Farley added.

"There are many people who want to go out to restaurants, and we're saying that if you want to do that, do it outdoors," said Farley. "Is there zero risk? No. There's going to be some risk whenever people get together."

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