Restaurants throughout Philly rely on a good number of suburban consumers to come in and have a city dining experience at night. Are they feeling safe enough to come to the city restaurants? Is the city doing enough to help owners with this issue?
Montco (Elkins Park) resident John Pisula told me, “I used to love going into the city for Restaurant Week and to check out new spots … I’m born and raised in Philly. I’d love to bring my young sons to see all the art and history … but I’m nervous.”
I reached out to four PR agencies with restaurant clients. Only one PR rep sent me a response. Restaurant owners are hesitant to speak out about this topic.
James Zeleniak, Founder and CEO of PUNCH MEDIA, said he can’t speak for anyone directly, but he feels many don’t want to put off their client base, nor feed the narrative that it’s dangerous to have dinner in the city.
“Philadelphia restaurants are busy. Philadelphia’s dining scene is incredibly dynamic, creative, and surging ahead,” Zeleniak said. “The best restaurants are in the city. And there’s an energy in the city that you can’t get elsewhere.”
Here’s what I heard from two restaurant owners:
Danny Bonner, owner of Bonner’s Irish Pub, said he thinks it’s a two-pronged issue–one is safety and the other one is the cost of parking and public transportation. “SEPTA has never rebounded from the pandemic. So if folks are going to come in from the suburbs, they’re going to drive in because there’s no real access to public transportation,” said Bonner. “The parking in the city has gone through the roof. It’s getting crazier and crazier. They’re taking every available parking lot and they’re putting another high rise on it. Where are these folks going to go when they come into the city? When they’re comfortable enough, they won’t be able to find parking.”
He said suburbanites will spend $25 to $35 on parking before they even have a meal, and safety is a big concern. “It’s every day with the carjackings; it’s every day with the lack of leadership within our government. And I’m not blaming the police department. Trust me,” said Bonner.
“I feel the city right now has grown in life and energy. It’s been a very busy Fall and Winter–lots of action in the industry. This is something you don’t see or experience unless you come in the city or live here,” said Christopher Kearse, Chef-Proprietor of Old City’s contemporary French restaurant, Forsythia. “I am sure the cold weather helps calm the crime rates somewhat (summers have always had higher crime rates).”
“Wanting to work from home in the ‘burbs is something I can’t understand. I wonder how much people are just trying to find excuses to not come to the city or socialize like we used to. I feel it’s all prospective,” Kearse said.
Erin Flynn Jay is a journalist and principal of Flynn Media, a company that provides editorial and PR services for small business owners. She resides in South Philadelphia.