Code Compliance and Safety of Philadelphia’s Sidewalk Cafes

Audit Date: October 4, 2017
Audit Categories
  • Investigation
Controller: Alan Butkovitz
Audit Tags
  • Licenses and Inspections,
  • Permits and Fees,
  • Public Safety,
  • Streets,
  • Taxes


Inspections performed to determine if establishments were comliant

Executive Summary

Why the Controller’s Office Conducted the Review

Pursuant to Section 6-400(d) of the Home Rule Charter, the City Controller’s Office reviewed a number of the city’s outdoor cafes to determine if they were properly licensed, complied with the city code and impeded pedestrian traffic.

What the Controller’s Office Found

Our investigator teams visited 363 establishments that had active and expired café licenses during a field survey conducted in late August 2017. The teams visited 283 locations with valid café licenses and 80 establishments without a license.

  • 49 of the unlicensed locations were found operating outdoor cafes, representing approximately $12,495 in lost license fees and fines to the city.
  • We found 218 apparent offenses based on seven code violations in 113 eateries that we surveyed. The Controller’s Office found the most frequent code violation to be covered ventilation grates (51), followed by café in pedestrian travel (46) and then sidewalk space not maintained (45).
  • In addition, we found a lack of escalating fines for each location in violation of sidewalk café codes. Repetitive citations remain at the same $75 fine level despite the authority under the Philadelphia Code to fine up to $300.

What the Controller’s Office Recommends

The Controller’s Office has compiled a number of recommendations to address these findings. The Right-of-Way Unit, the chief enforcer of Sidewalk Café Licenses, should follow code guidelines that authorize it to increase fines after the first offense. Such fine increases would potentially deter locations from becoming habitual offenders of the code. The Controller’s Office also recommends that the city website and license application be updated to reflect the license fee increase to $180 made in 2010. Additional recommendations can be found in the body of the report.