Skip to main content

Many Restaurant Owners Lack Understanding of Regulatory Layers and Risk Running Afoul of Laws


SAN DIEGO, CA (September 28, 2020) — Restaurant owners say that outdoor dining has allowed them to survive the recent COVID-19 closures. Since August 31, restaurants in San Diego County can serve customers indoors – but only at 25% capacity. Sidewalk cafes and “parklets” can allow these struggling businesses to provide outdoor dining, but there are many misconceptions about the rules, said permitting expert Marco Polo Cortes.

Even though the City of San Diego has made it easier to get outdoor dining permits during the public health emergency, restaurant owners should not assume that a City permit is all they need, Cortes said.

“Restaurant owners reach out to me because they are confused about exactly what they need to operate legally in an outdoor space, like a sidewalk café or a parklet,” said Cortes, owner of Marco Polo Permits. “It is important to realize that there are multiple layers of rules. Even though the City of San Diego is bending over backwards to make things easier, there are State, County and Business Improvement District rules, as well. Restaurant owners need to be aware of all the requirements – or risk being shut down again.”

A parklet transforms curbside parking spaces into a place for restaurants to set up tables and serve people outside. The City of San Diego recently streamlined the parklet application process for retailers and restaurants and has waived some fees. The idea is to give businesses more room to make money amid new social distancing restrictions that disallow indoor dining in restaurants.

Marco Polo Permits has fielded dozens of inquiries from restaurant owners and has processed more than 17 successful parklet permits under the emergency order.

According to Cortes, there are common misconceptions by businesses seeking a parklet permit.

outdoor dining space

Many restaurants are seeking guidance on permits for outdoor dining space.

Common Misconceptions About Parklet Permits

  1. “If I have a City of San Diego parklet permit, I can legally operate my parklet.” WRONG! You must also comply with requirements of the County Health Department and Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
  2. “If I have an ABC permit for my parklet, I can legally operate my parklet.” WRONG! You can apply for an ABC permit that allows you to extend your alcoholic beverage sales to the parklet area. However, the ABC issues the permit by relying on your statement that you have the legal authority to be on the street or the sidewalk. Before applying for the ABC permit, ensure you have the legal authority to use the parking space for dining – meaning you need a City permit and potentially permission from the property owner.
  3. “The ABC will notify law enforcement of my permit.” WRONG! The ABC permitholder is responsible for notifying local law enforcement of their permit. Once a restaurant gets their ABC application approved, they should immediately make a copy and send it to their local police or sheriff’s office. Failure to do this may be viewed as non-conformance with the permit.
  4. “I don’t need to check in with my Business Improvement District before opening a parklet.” WRONG! Each BID has their own rules, and some will require you to list the BID as an additional insured party for the parklet. Always check to make sure you are in compliance.

“Business owners who set up a sidewalk café or a parklet can benefit greatly, but they should be aware of the various rules in order to avoid running afoul of the law and to avoid potentially costly fees and penalties,” Cortes said. “The last thing we want is for more businesses to be shut down and that’s why complying with all aspects of the law is so important.”

About Marco Polo Permits
Marco Polo Permits is a local, state and federal government permitting, licensing and land use consulting business. Operating in San Diego County, Marco Polo Cortes is a local, regional and nationally recognized small business advocate and consultant specializing in hospitality businesses. With over 20 years of experience advocating for businesses small and large, supporting efficiencies and common sense policies that help reduce the often duplicative and burdensome permit and licensing challenges of business owners. Marco Polo Permits is proud to serve a diverse portfolio of clients in the hospitality and land-use industries with successful permit and licensing services. Clients include North Park Game Coin-Op Room, Civico 1845, Mission Brewery, Parq Restaurant & Nightclub, Salud Tacos, Pappalecco Café, and many other restaurant, brewery, bar, nightclub and entertainment clients.