* Avram Hornik of Morgan’s Pier, Harper’s Garden, Craft Hall and Rosy’s Taco Bar calls on State of PA to form working group to explore new options for safe outdoor dining *
With the stay at home order just extended to June 4th for Philadelphia and neighboring suburban counties, one local hospitality group and restaurateur is leading the charge to encourage state and city officials to explore new options to save the restaurant industry. Avram Hornik of FCM Hospitality, owners of Morgan’s Pier, Harper’s Garden, Rosy’s Taco Bar, Craft Hall, Rosy’s Taco Bar, Concourse Dance Bar, The Dolphin (as well as lead hospitality partner on Parks on Tap and Trails on Tap), poses the question about when is the right time to permit outdoor dining and how can outdoor dining options be expanded to help save the ailing restaurant industry. While indoor dining restaurants need to use caution and balance how to maintain sufficient patron density while not losing money, outdoor dining options could be the saving grace for one of the hardest hit industries since the start of the COVID19 crisis. With golf courses (and associated hospitality amenities) and construction industries allowed to reopen, plus dozens of counties in PA entering the yellow phase, why wait for restaurants if there is a safe action plan and guidelines that could jump start the economy?
“By swapping indoor dining rooms for outdoor seating, Philadelphia restaurants may be able to open sooner and safer,” said Hornik. “We want to keep our patrons and staff safe, first and foremost. We can keep them safe while allowing restaurants to open up with creative outdoor dining options that come out in phases as the state of the crisis shifts. We are urging and hoping Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine can work with restaurant owners like us to form a task force or working group that brings together the restaurant industry professionals at the same table as health professionals so we can refocus efforts on the one aspect of restaurant operations that could be done safely and sooner than later. We want to shift the answer from ‘No you can’t open to yes if’ and explore what the ‘ifs’ are to re-opening.”
He adds, “This would affect dozens if not hundreds of restaurants and eateries in the city but also the Main Line and other suburbs. We also call on Mayor Jim Kenney to explore how the city can be part of this and look at how the city can come up with solutions to expanding dining options – especially for some restaurants that would be crippled if they could only seat 4 to 8 people in total due to social distancing inside.”
The timing of the call to action couldn’t be more timely as restaurants face the difficult challenge to remain limited for take-out and delivery, while other restaurants ponder how to open back up after six to eight weeks of being closed. For other restaurants, including a majority of the BYO sector, how can restaurants open with social distancing rules for dining inside when they only normally seat 20 to 40 people, and that number is cut by 75%. As Philadelphia and suburban residents begin to get outside in the nice weather and use open park spaces, while golf course and construction gears back up, this is the time to act and get the process moving to save restaurants before the peak of summer season.
“Golf courses are now open in the state of Pennsylvania, which includes access to food and drink on property in a social setting,” said Hornik. “The message here is that if you have a membership and the means you can utilize these spaces for recreation, food and drink, while those without the means have to go without and small independent restaurants suffer.”
Hornik calls for action to begin the process to get restaurants open for outdoor dining as soon as it is safe. Philadelphia has been a pioneer in the area of supporting urban outdoor dining. Restaurants in the region can work to transform indoor dining space into additional kitchens and amenities for the immediate future, while getting creative in outdoor seating and service.
From the city perspective, the Mayor can help lead the charge for outdoor seating for existing restaurants by expanding sidewalk seating regulations, transforming street parking spaces near restaurants into outdoor seating and parklets, and allowing use of nearby parking lots, private-public park spaces and private outdoor spaces for dining without zoning.
From the state, the Governor’s office can help drive the ship in terms of health regulations and guidelines, as well as letting existing liquor license holders to serve in adjacent or non-contiguous spaces like they did for the golf courses.
Hornik has been working with the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, other restaurant owners, and officials local and statewide on a plan for his own outdoor concepts that would have normally include Harper’s Garden, Morgan’s Pier, Parks on Tap and Trails on Tap – plus new concepts that had been planned to open this year. Hornik is available to share findings and suggestions on how restaurants can open safely and get creative during this difficult times.
The text of Hornik’s letter to the editor as published in the Philadelphia Inquirer is as follows:
Is it time to permit outdoor dining at Philadelphia restaurants? We have to be realistic that the opening of indoor restaurants, with sufficient patron density to operate without losing money, may not happen again without a COVID-19 vaccine. By swapping indoor dining rooms for outdoor seating, Philadelphia restaurants may be able to open sooner and safer.
Immediately, the governor needs to form a working group of health professionals and restaurant operators to determine when outdoor dining could be safely opened and to establish what practical operational procedures would be required to do so. The procedures could include requiring contact tracing logs, distance between tables, disposable service items, and the wearing of masks. By proclaiming that outdoor dining will be permitted before indoor dining, restaurant operators can start ordering equipment, buying supplies, talking with neighbors, and training staff to be ready.
I’ve been successfully operating restaurants in Center City that are exclusively or primarily outdoors and the sacrifice of closing when it’s cold or wet is balanced by being busy when it’s warm and sunny. Increasing the number of outdoor seats or the distance between tables doesn’t require the expense of renovating and renting a larger restaurant; just finding more outdoor space. The six-month 2020 Philadelphia outdoor dining season, which typically runs May through October, has already begun. Permitting indoor restaurants to temporarily adopt this business model is the best hope for preserving Philadelphia restaurants and their essential place in our city’s culture and economy.
According to the Economy League, the food economy accounts for 10 percent of all jobs and 19 percent of all establishments within the city as of 2018. With restaurants closed, thousands of Philly workers are going unpaid and the city is losing valuable and much-needed tax revenue.
Philadelphia has been a pioneer in supporting and allowing urban outdoor dining. Many neighborhood restaurants already have the kitchens and bathrooms and other back of the house infrastructure in place. Sit-down indoor restaurants who started opening exclusively for takeout have shown creative ways to add physically distant workspace by transforming indoor dining space into additional kitchens and server stations.
Expanding space for outdoor seating for existing restaurants is in the mayor’s control. Temporarily, for the length of this emergency, he could i) permit sidewalk seating anywhere that is safe and practical; ii) transform street parking spaces near restaurants into outdoor seating as the city previously allowed under the Parklet program; iii) allow the use of parking lots and other private outdoor spaces for dining without zoning or non-safety permitting. With the Governor’s help, the PLCB, as it did recently with golf courses, could temporarily allow existing liquor license holders to serve in adjacent or non-contiguous spaces.
With some creative public policy changes from the Mayor and the Governor, Philadelphia could safely eat out(side) again before the of May.”
For more information about FCM Hospitality please visit https://www.fcmhospitality.com/
For information about the call to action and proposed ideas to save Philadelphia and the suburban restaurants, contact Avram Hornik at 215-422-3570.