COVID-19: Restaurant Petitions City to Make Outdoor Dining Permanent

A recent petition posted to Tattooed Mom's Instagram account reminds customers outdoor dining restrictions are set to expire at the end of this year..

Outdoor dining has been a common sight in Center City since the start of the pandemic. (5th Square Photo/Chris Kendig)

Story by Alan Lu

Tattooed Mom, a popular bar and restaurant located on South Street, has started a petition to make streeteries and outdoor dining permanent, arguing that outdoor dining is a way to “enhance and engage neighborhoods throughout the city.” 

The petition urges Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Jim Kenny to make outdoor dining a permanent part of Philly’s dining scene.

“We have seen first hand how these spaces give small businesses like ours a chance to reconnect with our communities in safe and creative ways,” the restaurant posted on their Instagram page.

Robert Perry, the founder of Tattooed Mom, said he wants to ​​raise awareness of the financial impact outdoor dining has had on Philadelphia restaurants. He believes many people don’t know the current outdoor dining policy is temporary. Through educating Philly’s residents, he aims to encourage people to be active or to contact City Council to show community support for the issue.

“Both the small business community and our customers are fully supportive,” Perry said, adding that besides local customers, many international visitors come to enjoy Philly’s cityscape.

“Both the small business community and our customers are fully supportive,” Perry said, adding that besides local customers, many international visitors come to enjoy Philly’s cityscape.

Lauren Peterson, who has visited Tattooed Mom several times since she moved to Philly more than a year ago, thinks outdoor dining is an important part of city life. 

“I like getting the fresh air and enjoying the view,” Peterson said. “And it makes you feel like you have your personal space in the pandemic.”

She thinks permanent outdoor dining would be good for both customers and businesses. 

When asked about the petition, Peterson said she has not signed it, even though she did see Tattooed Mom’s post on Instagram.

“It is hard to translate support on social media to actions,” Perry said, adding that Tattooed Mom has received over 4,000 likes on the petition post, but the petition has not yet met its 1,600 signature goal.

Diners gather outside Tattooed Mom. (Alan Lu/PN)

Perry still hopes that the petition can be completed by the end of the year, when the current outdoor dining policy expires.

The next step for Perry will be to make sure all councilmembers are aware that their small community has abundant support for outdoor dining. He tries to be as active and involved as he can to help make outdoor dining a permanent law.

So far, there have been two bills introduced by Councilmember Allan Domb to make permanent outdoor dining happen.

Will Tung, a volunteer at 5th Square, a registered political action committee advocating for better transit and safer streets, said Darrell L. Clarke, the president of the Philadelphia City Council, is a major opponent to permanent outdoor dining.

He intends to only prolong the temporary outdoor dining order for another six months.

“We’re not big fans of Clarke,” Tung said, adding that the council president is very “car-oriented.”

To Perry and Tung, the government should commit to creating a better city that serves local people and visitors, rather than making space for cars.

According to Tung, 5th Square is part of The Recovery Street Coalition, an collection of civic organizations focused on helping Philadelphia get through the pandemic by “rethinking the use of existing street, park, and sidewalk spaces.” 

The coalition’s legislative platform aims to secure the expansion of outdoor dining, food vending, and bike lanes. 

Towards these ends, the coalition hopes to relax rules for outdoor sidewalk cafes and dining.

Outdoor dining proponents are after more than a positive dining experience; they hope to address a whole range of City policies that would make supporting restaurants and urban life easier.

Managing and regulating outdoor dining comes with costs, and not just restaurants investing in building safe furniture and structures for their customers. There is also licensing and permitting fees restaurants would have to pay under proposed legislation. 

“There will be a yearly permanent fee to the city to pay to administer their (outdoor dining) program,” Perry said. 

Perry also said no outdoor dining should take up bike lanes. Pedestrians’ and cyclists’ rights should be well considered in any outdoor dining bill. Accessibility issues for persons with disabilities are also essential to address.

As for parking, Perry thinks about the larger issue beyond just outdoor dining.

“As a city, do we want to continue to be car-centric?” he said.

Tung shared similar opinions on parking, saying spaces should be saved for the use of people, noting that parking space in Philly is never at full capacity.

“Most of the time, there’s only one driver in a car,” he said. “Outdoor dining is a better way to use the streets for people but not for cars.”

With concerns about inconsistent regulations and challenges of working with local communities, Perry still believes the pros of making outdoor dining permanent outweighs the cons.

Outdoor dining is not only a vibrant experience, but was an important way to seek connection between people during the pandemic, he said.

“COVID-19 has fundamentally changed people’s dining habits,” Perry said.

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