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Restaurants in Philly will be allowed to expand indoor dining capacity to match state regulations. Will the increase be safe for customers and workers? Health officials say yes — as long as everyone follows the rules.
When the change takes effect on Friday, Oct. 2, city restaurants will be allowed to fill dining rooms up to 50%.
The move is something many proprietors have been pushing for as they struggle to keep up with the major disruptions that’ve knocked the industry on its heels. (Some estimate only 1 out of every 5 restaurants will make it through.)
Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley encouraged restaurateurs to continue with outdoor dining even as they ramp up indoors, saying he still considers it much safer. He acknowledged the changing seasons could put a damper on open-air tables, but noted the city Commerce Department is working on ways to make it easier for restaurants to continue through the winter.
Stay tuned for more on cold weather solutions for al fresco dining. Meanwhile, here’s 10 things to know about how indoor service works in Philadelphia.
Before opening with increased 50% capacity, all restaurants have to self-certify on the website set up by the state. By signing up, they’re promising to abide by all coronavirus safety rules, including regulations set by the city, state and CDC.
Tables in Philly will be limited to parties of four. “I’m sorry if you have a household of five or more people,” Dr. Farley said. “You’re not going to be able to eat inside.”
Unlike in some states and cities, customers won’t be required to sign in with contact info for potential tracing later on. However, restaurants are supposed to screen guests by asking them about symptoms or exposure within the past couple weeks.
Front of house managers are going to be playing some real-life Tetris as they plan floor layouts: each member of a table must be seated at least 6 feet away from every diner at other tables. If you sit down and this isn’t the case, let someone know.
It’s tables only — no bar seating allowed. There are documented examples where opening bars led to outbreaks, like in Pittsburgh over the summer, Health Commissioner Farley said.
Similar to the above, you’re not allowed to just sit down and get drinks. You must order “a meal” with any booze. (The definition of a meal is flexible; some beer gardens are offering options like two hard-boiled eggs for $1.)
This is one that also applies to outdoor dining — but anyone walking along the street next to tables outside knows many have not been following this rule. Ideally, you’ll put the mask on whenever you’re not actually sipping or chewing, and especially when a server approaches to hand over food or take an order.
For their own protection, servers working the indoor tables are supposed to supplement their masks (also required outdoors) with face shields. Some restaurants have interpreted this to mean safety goggles are an ok substitute; that’s not what’s in the city’s regulations.
The reason outdoors is considered so much safer is there’s lots of airflow, so any droplets carrying coronavirus particles will quickly disperse. To help that happen indoors, restaurants are supposed to improve ventilation, with air purifiers, HVAC and filter upgrades, or other methods.
If you’ve heard of a limit of 25 people for indoor gatherings, it doesn’t apply here, Dr. Farley clarified — that’s for events and private/social gatherings. In the case of restaurants, it’s all relative. With the 50% limit, small restaurants might have space for 16 guests, larger ones might be able to set tables for 60 or more.