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Here Are the Latest Changes to Dining Out in Philly

New rules around outdoor dining will have a big impact on Philadelphia restaurants this summer

outdoor bar with picnic tables and sunbrellas
Outdoor bar Morgan’s Pier is already taking reservations for early June.
Morgan’s Pier

Outdoor dining is on the horizon for Philly, with Gov. Tom Wolf laying out the next steps for the region’s reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. Starting Friday, June 5, restaurants in counties that are in the yellow phase of Pennsylvania’s three-phase reopening plan are allowed to offer outdoor dining as long as they follow specific safety requirements. Philly is currently still in the red phase, which means the stay-at-home order is in effect and non-essential businesses are closed, but is expected to enter the yellow phase on June 5, though that’s not a definite yet.

Beyond the southeast region, which includes Philly, almost all of Pennsylvania will be in either the yellow or green phase starting Friday, May 29.

Originally, the red and yellow designations meant the same thing for restaurants: Takeout and delivery only, with no on-premises dining at all, indoor or outdoor.

Now, after lobbying from restaurant owners and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, outdoor dining is permitted at restaurants and retail food service businesses when a county reaches yellow — with caveats.

Every customer must be seated at a table, and there must be at least 6 feet between people at different tables. Customers need to wear masks when moving around, but can take them off when seated (there are exceptions for children under 2 and people who can’t wear a mask due to a medical condition; proof of a medical condition is not required).

A restaurant also needs to make sure people walking by the restaurant can pass the outdoor tables without getting within 6 feet of a seated diner.

Maximum occupancy is determined in one of two ways. Option one: A restaurant can limit occupancy to 50 percent of what was previously allowed (the fire capacity) or, if there isn’t a fire code number available, the limit is 12 people per 1,000 square feet. Option two: A restaurant can arrange the tables in a way that ensures no one is within 6 feet of anyone at another table in any direction, and figure out from there how many people can fit.

Signs making it clear where customers can sit and stand, like marking the floor to indicate how far apart to stand when waiting in line for a bathroom, are required.

For employees, a slew of safety measures, like frequent hand washing and disinfecting anything customers might touch, are also mandated.

Self-service setups, like buffets, salad bars, and soda machines, are not allowed. No salt and pepper shakers on the table either.

In Philly, restaurant owners and neighborhood business associations are asking for some outdoor areas, including sections of streets, to be closed off to allow more room for outdoor tables, but that’s still in the works. No matter how that shakes out, restaurants need permits for outdoor seating, like always.

Anticipating relaxed regulations, at least two seasonal spots in Philly are ready to go. Owner Avram Hornik is already taking reservations for June 5 at Morgan’s Pier, the massive bar on the Delaware River waterfront, and Harper’s Garden, an indoor/outdoor venue in Rittenhouse, even though the city has not given the go-ahead.

When a country reaches the green phase, indoor dining is allowed as well, with the same limits, including 50-percent capacity. There’s no word yet on when Philly will be green.

Earlier this week, the city amended the stay-at-home order to allow walk-in and walk-up ordering, meaning customers don’t need to place food orders in advance: They can walk inside a restaurant to order, a long as there are fewer than 11 people in line. The amendment also means that food trucks, prohibited since March, can start operating again.

Last week, in a major change for a state with unusually strict liquor laws, to-go cocktails became temporarily legal.