Restaurants and bars can now offer seating within 1,000 feet from their main location and serve alcohol to those customers under legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday.
The legislation, known as House Bill 425, also allows liquor license holders to cater an unlimited number of events until the end of 2024.
House Bill 425 is part of a greater effort to provide resources for restaurants and bars looking to recover following months of shuttered business in 2020, said Melissa Bova, vice president of government affairs of Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA).
The bill was introduced by Rep. Matthew Dowling, R- Fayette and Somerset. The biggest impact the bill will have on Pennsylvanian restaurants and bars is its expansion of outdoor seating, according to Bova.
“The rules before said if you wanted to expand outdoor seating, it had to be attached to your current licensed facility,” she said, noting that a business would need to apply to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to serve alcohol in a space attached to the building with the license, such as a sidewalk.
House Bill 425 takes away the need for an application and allows a business to offer outdoor seating anywhere within 1,000 feet of the licensed business.
“The 1000 feet allows businesses to be more creative especially for businesses that don’t have the sidewalk space,” said Bova. “They can go around the corner and be more flexible to expand their seating.”
The bill also makes it easier for businesses to cater events like weddings without a limitation on the length of the event or how many can be held in a year. Prior to House Bill 425, a business could only host up to 52 events a year, capped at five hours per event.
Those restrictions have been eliminated until the end of 2024.
The legislation’s remaining two changes may affect less businesses but will still prove beneficial for restaurants and bars that needed to close as a result of the pandemic, said Bova.
If a liquor licensee had to close during the pandemic and is safekeeping their liquor, they now have an additional year to keep that liquor under safekeeping before they would need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to pay for additional safekeeping.
House Bill 425 also allows businesses selling liquor and wine to sell their remaining products to other businesses if they were shut down during the pandemic. Previously, a business that was forced to close was unable to sell their product after shutting the business down.
The PRLA continues to work with legislators to provide avenues for the Pennsylvania restaurant industry to make money back after 2020 put many businesses in the service industry in the red.
Two remaining legal changes the association is working toward include legalizing cocktails-to-go across the state and a 15% discount on liquor and wine purchases for licensees.
“These help recovery. Will this save the day for everyone? No. But it provides resources to licensees still struggling to come back after a year of mitigation,” said Bova. “Anything we can cobble together to give businesses resources to recover is a win for the industry right now.”