California Plans to Expand Outdoor Space for Bars, Restaurants

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The state of California is making moves to give restaurants and bars the chance to permanently grow their space on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots for outdoor dining and drinking following the pandemic. 

The state Assembly and Senate have approved Assembly Bill 61 and Senate Bill 314 to expand outdoor dining, and give restaurants and bars an extra year after the COVID-19 emergency order is lifted to license outdoor service. 

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Bars, restaurants and music venues have spent much of the past 18 months either closed or operating at seriously reduced capacity. During the first three months of the pandemic alone, the restaurant and food service industry lost around $120 billion in sales, and the National Restaurant Association reported 2.5 million jobs lost in 2020.

But, throughout the crisis, many businesses were able to stay afloat or establish new success via makeshift outdoor service. The proposed bills aim to help venues recover from the pandemic using the strategies they used to adapt when COVID restricted indoor dining. 

The measures will provide a way for businesses to reduce rent costs and increase revenue, supporters say. Businesses can also save administrative costs by permitting a shared location within one licensed building, as the bills will make it easier for multiple licensed retailers to share commercial space with manufacturers.

SB 314 will also streamline California’s alcohol license process by allowing businesses to use a catering license at one location 36 times, increasing the currently allowable limit from 24.

“Outdoor dining has become a part of our way of life in cities and towns across California,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, author of the Senate bill. “SB 314 will keep this popular practice in place. It will also help our small businesses recover from COVID-19, which has devastated our hospitality industry in particular.”

SB 314 is now awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. AB 61 was approved by the Assembly and is now set for final Senate approval.

Gregory Cornfield can be reached at gcornfield@commercialobserver.com.