Foodservice Equipment Reports

San Francisco Relents On Micromanaging Restaurants And Equipment

Psst! Toasters and waffle irons and cone dispensers are in the clear!

Foodservice equipment—and the operators who want to use it—is no longer skirting the law in San Francisco. Restaurateurs there whose menus were defined by the dictates of the city’s decades-old permit system can breathe freely, start installing and get to cooking what their customers want. 

On April 10, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed legislation reforming and streamlining the permit process for restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars. The new process reduces the city’s number of defined restaurant categories from 13 to three: full-service, limited restaurants (that’s what the law calls them) and bars. The primary distinction between full-service and limited restaurants is a liquor license; for a bar designation, liquor sales would have to account for the majority of revenue.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Supervisor Scott Weiner, the old definitions restricted everything from the types of foods a restaurateur could serve to the number of chairs in a cafe. Under one permit definition, a proprietor could serve ice cream in a cup, but not in a cone, or a café could sell bagels but not keep a toaster or panini press on premise. The change opens an opportunity for restaurants to be innovative, according to Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the San Francisco-based trade group which helped draft the legislation. "It will help further the city's reputation of being leaders in culinary innovation."

The new law would not, however, change formula retail controls or undo neighborhood caps on how many restaurants and bars it will allow. And neighborhood commercial districts will still typically require a conditional use permit for new full-service restaurants.