Restaurants can soon boost capacity to 50%; indoor dining returns to Philly

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania restaurants will be allowed to seat more patrons inside after Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday he is relaxing restrictions on indoor dining.

Restaurants may increase indoor occupancy from 25% to 50% of capacity starting Sept. 21, more than two months after the administration first reimposed pandemic restrictions on the state’s beleaguered hospitality industry in response to a spike in virus infections.

“The move to 25% ... was an attempt to flatten the curve in Pennsylvania. We were starting to see a troubling rise,” Wolf said at a news conference in Lancaster. “Now I think we’re at a point where we are ready to lift that, partially.”

Bar and restaurant owners have said they were unfairly blamed for rising virus case numbers, challenging the Wolf administration to provide evidence. At a House hearing last month, industry officials warned that thousands of establishments were in danger of closing permanently without relief from the state.

Establishments that want to increase capacity must certify to the state that they are complying with all public health guidelines. Those restaurants will then appear in a searchable state database called “Open & Certified Pennsylvania,” the administration said.

The Paddock on Market in Springettsbury Township opened this weekend with outdoor seating for customers. Named the Inaugural Paddock's Pop-up Patio, the outdoor dining is a big change of business for The Paddock, a family-owned restaurant for 70 years. Sunday, June 7, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Other restrictions on the hospitality industry will still apply. Restaurants must stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m., and bars that don’t offer meal service will remain shut down.

“I think we’re in a position to recognize the hardship that this has caused the restaurants and at the same time continue to do what we can do to keep people safe,” Wolf, a Democrat, said Monday.

Republican leaders in the House said bars and restaurants suffered a “lost summer” because of Wolf’s capacity restrictions.

“The governor’s announcement today is a step in the right direction, but opening restaurants to 50 percent is merely a break-even point for many of these small businesses and the order puts a number of restrictions on these establishments’ ability to do business,” House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman said in an email.

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, restaurants were permitted to offer indoor dining Tuesday for the first time in nearly six months.

Philadelphia was the last locality in Pennsylvania to lift its ban on indoor dining. But the reopening came with several restrictions, including a 25% capacity seating limit and a prohibition on parties larger than four people, making it unclear if all the city’s restaurants would unlock their doors.

Other Philadelphia businesses getting the green light to reopen at limited capacities and with restrictions Tuesday include movie theaters and performance art spaces.

Criminal trials were also expected to make their first move toward restarting Tuesday in Philadelphia as potential jurors reported for screening. Court officials have said those jurors would undergo temperature checks and be screened via questionnaires before being allowed to enter, and the jury pool would be much smaller to enable social distancing.