New food license process in effect for food service in the city

PHILADELPHIA – Today the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) and Department of Commerce reported that the City’s transition to new food license types, created under an ordinance passed by City Council at the end of 2017, is on schedule.

As of January 2018, for the purpose of licensing businesses to prepare and serve food, a food business is “large” if it has 30 or more customer seats and “small” if it has 0 to 29 customer seats. Prior to the change, large licenses were issued to businesses with 50 or more seats and small licenses to business with between 0 and 49 seats.

“Most current ‘prep and serve’ food license-holders are unaffected,” stated L&I Communications Director Karen Guss. “If you now have a large license, you’ll automatically receive the new type of large license when you renew in 2018. If you now have a small license and you have between zero and 29 customer seats, you’ll automatically receive the new type of small license when you renew in 2018.”

License-holders who need to act now have businesses with between 30 and 49 customer seats. Those holders currently have small licenses, but may qualify for large licenses under the new law.  License-holders can go online to request an inspection to make sure they receive the correct license at renewal time. Anyone having trouble can contact 311 for assistance with the form.

L&I sent a mailing in January 2018 explaining the changes to the holders of city licenses to prepare and serve food – more than 6,300. In recognition of the license-holders’ diverse backgrounds, the letters were sent in six languages – Cambodian (Khmer), Chinese (simplified Mandarin), French, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese – in addition to English.

Managers of the city’s business corridors received training from L&I on the food license change and have been conducting in-person outreach to potentially affected businesses. The Department of Commerce Business Services Managers are also doing in-person outreach to off-corridor businesses and notified business associations across the city so that they would be prepared for any inquiries they might receive.

To date, 350 license-holders have requested an inspection. Requests will be accepted through February 16, 2018, after which time L&I will contact the requestors to set up a date and time for the inspection. Inspectors will confirm whether the businesses have 30 or more seats and a bathroom available to customers. Inspections will be completed before the end of March.

The license changes make Philadelphia food licenses more consistent with state liquor licenses. Under Pennsylvania law, only businesses that are set up to prepare and serve food to 30 or more customers at one time are potentially eligible for liquor licenses. After July 1, 2018, the City will convene a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss plexiglass barriers through which food is served to customers. Under the license change ordinance, by January 1, 2021, L&I must publish regulations on the use or removal of such barriers by food businesses in the large license category.  Other plexiglass barriers, such as those around cash registers, are not affected by the ordinance, and businesses with fewer than 30 seats will remain able to use plexiglass anywhere on the premises. Whether their businesses will qualify for a large or for a small license will continue to be left to the discretion of business-owners.