Jan 11, 2023 - News

Why Philly should be optimistic about the 2023 dining scene

Illustration of repeating dinner plate emojis with smiley faces on them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Philadelphia's dining scene is hyped about new openings this year.

State of play: While we said goodbye to some mainstays, our local restaurant industry made major strides in 2022. And some are bullish that customers will return in higher numbers in 2023, as we near three full years since pandemic shutdowns.

Why it matters: Philly's restaurants were among the hardest hit in 2020, but innovation and grit kept many afloat and we're starting to see the payoffs.

  • By the third quarter of 2022, sales tax collections at restaurants and bars reached 88% of 2019, per a report from the Center City District.
  • The number of people employed in the city's leisure and hospitality sector was up 6.5% in November compared to 2021, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What to expect: Ben Fileccia, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, forecasts a strong year as businesses relax pandemic restrictions and more customers feel comfortable returning to public spaces.

  • "People are back. Guests are back. They're spending money," he said.

Yes, but: Restaurant owners saw profit margins shrink over the last year due to inflation and the rising cost of ingredients, Fileccia said. Meanwhile, staff shortages persist, putting some hoping to increase wages to attract and retain employees in a pinch.

  • Plus: The city's new regulations around outdoor dining "streeteries," have left many restaurant owners upset.
  • They're "extremely frustrated with the permitting process," he said.

Zoom in: Fewer than 50 restaurants had received streetery licenses as of Monday, when the city planned to start enforcing its new regulations. That's a precipitous drop from the 800 that were operating at the height of the pandemic, per WHYY.

  • Fileccia said restaurant owners have been struggling to attain licenses, which require a $1,750 fee and new building requirements.

What they're saying: Sarah Qi, owner of Cake & Joe in the Pennsport neighborhood, told Axios she has lingering concerns that pandemic trends could continue to depress customer enthusiasm for eating out.

  • Nonetheless, she intends to open a second location in Fishtown in the coming months.
  • "We're still waiting for good times," she said. "When the economy gets better, I'm ready."

What we're watching: The city says it's considering changing the new streetery rules to make it easier for restaurants to apply, WHYY reported.


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