Followers of food news know the drill: Beloved bar/restaurant/coffee shop closes after 3, 5, 10 (etc.) years in business. Beloved owner says, regretfully, that business was booming, but that the high cost of doing business in San Francisco made the operation unsustainable.
Those high costs include the city’s skyrocketing rents for retail space, the rate one must pay employees to provide them with a living wage, and the numerous fees levied by the city of San Francisco, a place that has numerous government agencies that are ostensibly dedicated to small business support.
It’s those latter fees that Laurie Thomas, the new acting executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, tells the San Francisco Business Times she’s interested in quashing. The GGRA, which lobbies for policies to support the restaurant industry, has a controversial track record in San Francisco: They engaged in a four-year battle against city-mandated requirements for restaurants to fund health care for its employees, for example, and has routinely opposed increases to area minimum wage laws.
In a City Hall meeting in September, restaurant leaders gathered to implore city leaders to chop permit fees, something that officials like North Beach Supervisor Aaron Peskin seemed open to. “Permit fees [are] the low-hanging fruit,” Peskin said, and called for ways to streamline San Francisco’s permitting process. As of publication time, however, no changes have been implemented.
Speaking about her new role, Thomas highlighted a number of statistics that help paint a picture of the state of San Francisco’s restaurant business. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- $1,100: The amount a restaurant the size of Cow Hollow’s Rose’s Cafe (which GGRA head Laurie Thomas owns) must pay, per year, for San Francisco business registration
- $2,870: The amount, per year, that a Thomas says a restaurant the size of Rose’s is required to pay to place tables and chairs on the sidewalk, as fees are calculated based on a spot’s square footage
- 4,415: Roughly the number of restaurants in San Francisco
- 384: The number of restaurants that requested permits to open in 2019
- 535: The number of restaurants that closed in 2019
While there’s no quick fix for high rents or San Francisco’s overall affordability, Thomas says that the reduction of city fees is one quick and easy way to help SF restaurants survive. “It will be all about adding up the small wins like getting the city to change the sidewalk permitting fee,” she tells the Business Times. ”They’re all realistic and good opportunities to provide some immediate relief for businesses. Restaurants have absorbed a lot of legislative ordinances that have almost broken the business model for a dine-in restaurant.”