Lakeland restaurants will not see an increase in outdoor dining fees

LAKELAND, Fla. — Restaurants in Lakeland that have outdoor seating will not see fees increase at this time.

Lakeland has seen huge growth in outdoor dining as restaurants have moved due to COVID.

Frescos Southern Kitchen is one of two restaurants in town with a parklet. A parklet is an extended outdoor seat that is placed in a parking space.

“Before noon or one o’clock in the afternoon, it’s really nice outside. Usually in the evening after 5-6 p.m., the weather is nice and people want to be outside,” said Tim Calhoun, vice president of Frescos.

Calhoun said that since 2020, the restaurant has spent nearly $30,000 to expand outdoor dining.

“Between the new furniture, the new blind, the lighting, we have the sidewalks cleaned every two months, the plants. We invested quite a bit of money,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun wrote a letter to Lakeland commissioners after learning the city was proposing to raise fees for restaurants that have sidewalk cafes or parklets. The recommendation was $4.50 per square foot.

“From the staff’s perspective, you’re taking a city asset, like a sidewalk or a parking spot, and expanding your dining room. So the thought process was to pay a nominal fee for the square footage you expand your dining room,” said Kevin Cook, spokesman for the Town of Lakeland.

Calhoun told commissioners that these proposed fees would have been excessive, and he thinks it could discourage restaurants from using their outdoor space.

“We currently spend around $8,000 a year just to keep it as it is. You throw an extra $4,000 on it and you get a 50% increase in our annual costs,” Calhoun said.

On Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to keep the city’s permit fee at $100 a year.

The city now plans to study the impact of outdoor dining on businesses before considering an adjustment to permit fees.

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