In the wake of coronavirus and associated state and local regulations, many Pennsylvania municipalities are making allowances to permit or expand outdoor restaurant operations on a temporary basis.  For instance, on June 5, 2020, the City of Lancaster (the “City”) adopted an ordinance (the “Ordinance”) to allow restaurants to expand the location of existing sidewalk café operations and further permit “any person…[to] submit an application for a Temporary License for a Temporary Sidewalk Café to the City Engineer”.  In addition, the Ordinance gives the City’s Director of Public Works the power to designate areas within the City as “areas reserved for consumption of food and beverages”.  The Ordinance is effective until December 31, 2020.

The Ordinance (and similar legislation enacted by municipalities across the Commonwealth) affords much needed relief to businesses that suffered steep financial losses due to coronavirus mitigation efforts.  Despite these measures, it is safe to say that restaurateurs invariably look forward to a time when all restrictions are lifted so that business operations can proceed as they did prior to the pandemic.  However, notwithstanding the difficulties associated with managing a restaurant under changing guidelines and accompanying economic uncertainty, there is some room for optimism: data shows that customers are overwhelmingly enjoying the option to dine al fresco.

Accordingly, once stopgap legislation allowing expanded outdoor dining operations expire, business owners desiring to continue these types of operations will need to grapple with local zoning codes and ordinances which ordinarily prohibit or heavily regulate outdoor dining.  In the majority of cases, this will require amendments to existing zoning ordinances and the adoption of new sets of regulations to ensure that al fresco operations are conducted in a manner beneficial to businesses, customers and municipalities.