The City might streamline restaurant regulations 

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Relief may be on the way for San Francisco business owners who serve food or alcohol and must navigate complex regulations dictating whether bagels can be toasted or ice cream served in a cone or cup.

Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced legislation that would simplify the planning code by condensing The City’s definitions of restaurants from 13 to three.

“After decades of well-intentioned patchwork planning legislation, we’ve created a Frankenstein’s monster when it comes to defining and permitting restaurants,” Wiener said. “The system is so rigid and unnecessarily complex that we discourage — and sometimes prohibit — entrepreneurs from starting new and dynamic food businesses or from changing their businesses to meet modern demand. The system is in desperate need of reform.”

Wiener’s proposal would divide restaurants into bars, restaurants that serve alcohol and restaurants that don’t sell alcohol. It would eliminate “micro-managing” distinctions such as the number of chairs needed or whether a toaster oven is used. Currently, a restaurant might be allowed to have 10 chairs but be in violation if an 11th is added.

The proposal does not eliminate neighborhood controls, which date back to the mid-1980s, when The City began to restrict uses to preserve the character and business diversity of commercial corridors.

“There are still plenty of neighborhood controls, including conditional use requirements for full-serve restaurants,” Wiener said.

The legislation, in the works for a year, was discussed Monday by the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the Board of Supervisors. It will return next week for public scrutiny.

Businessman Seth Bowden hopes the legislation passes so he can realize his vision of opening up a boutique butcher shop called Graze in San Francisco. Among his challenges under the current rules is that he would be limited to only selling prepared foods in a space with no more than 500 square feet, or one-third of his proposed square footage.

“My concept really requires more than that,” Bowden said, adding that Wiener’s proposal “would allow me to prepare and sell any kind of foods in any quantity I choose, and I think that would be great.”

Wiener’s proposal

The proposal would replace 13 minutely specific definitions with 3 broad categories:

- Limited Restaurant: Couldn’t serve alcohol for on-site drinking; ideal for bakeries, bubble tea stores, take-out restaurants
- Restaurant: Allowed to serve beer and wine for drinking on site
- Bar: Any business with a full liquor license

Source: Supervisor Scott Wiener

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