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Only a Third of Philly Diners Are Ready to Eat Out Again

Restaurants can offer outdoor dining starting Friday, though some potential customers say they’re not comfortable with the safety guidelines

outdoor restaurant with people dining, plants, and hanging lights
Harper’s Garden, which includes an indoor dining room and a large outdoor space, is taking reservations for this weekend.
Harper’s Garden

After months of being limited to takeout and delivery, restaurants in Philadelphia can add outdoor dining starting Friday, June 12. But according to a recent survey of Eater readers, not everyone is ready to go out to eat.

Only a third of readers say they’ll be ready to eat at restaurants as soon as outdoor dining starts, out of the 1,130 people who responded to the survey so far. And less than 7 percent think they’ll be ready to eat inside when that’s allowed in Philly in the future, which will likely be when the city reaches the next phase of Pennsylvania’s color-coded three-phase reopening plan. (Philly is currently in the yellow, or middle, phase. Green comes next.)

The city has yet to release outdoor dining guidelines specifically for Philly, but it’s likely they’ll be similar to the strict state-issued regulations, which include limiting occupancy and ensuring 6 feet of space between diners at different tables. In addition, diners have to wear masks when they aren’t seated and can only walk through a restaurant to get to an outside area or to the bathroom.

Officially, only restaurants that already have a license for outdoor dining are allowed to serve outside this week, and only within the area the license covers, whether that’s on a sidewalk, patio, or roof. Plans are in the works to temporarily change that policy, with restaurants requesting an easier process for adding or expanding outside seating.

Some restaurants are setting up outside by this weekend no matter what. Just off Rittenhouse Square, Bar Bombon owner Nicole Marquis says she’s creating an al fresco dining area with tables and string lights on the alley street next to the bar, even if she has to personally lay down across the alley to block it off.

But even with owners going to those lengths, some survey respondents say they plan to “wait and see how outdoor and indoor spaces are configured” and prefer to give restaurants more time to “work out their new processes” and “see how it all plays out.”

“I will wait until the restaurants I want to dine in are either inspected by the health department and deemed safe or until ample time has passed to ensure proper procedures are in place and food inventory has been recently refreshed,” one reader writes.

“Basically, I don’t want to be the first wave of people dining out because of both safety and quality of experience,” someone else notes. For another reader, priorities have shifted: “I have found that I don’t need or want to eat out as often as before.”

Still others are raring to go, writing in that they plan to dine at restaurants, indoor or out, as soon as possible. “Open everything. Green means go and there are still restrictions. What comes after green? How long do we have to wait to get our normal lives back?” says one person.

“I would feel comfortable in a restaurant that doesn’t cater to knuckleheads, i.e., customers who want the ‘freedom’ to not wear a mask,” writes a respondent ready to dine out if people comply with the rules.

corner restaurant with awning and blue sidewalk tables
Sidewalk tables set up at Bar Bombon in Philly’s Rittenhouse neighborhood.
Courtney Apple

Almost 60 percent are comfortable with the 6-feet-apart guidelines, while about 30 percent want that doubled to 12 feet of space between parties. On the opposite end, some people feel coronavirus-related regulations are unnecessary: “The restaurants need to make money, we will be fine,” one person says.

“This is all such bullshit. They could sit on my lap,” writes another.

Even with that perspective, more than 90 percent said hosts, food runners, and servers should wear masks in restaurants. Just under 90 percent said kitchen staff should wear masks, too. The vast majority want to see gloves worn as well.

When presented with a long list of safety measures restaurants could implement, most responders — 85 percent — have a least some faith in Pennsylvania’s reopening regulations, saying they want to see restaurants follow state-mandated safety guidelines set forth by the governor. More than 70 percent agree with the rule that dining rooms be limited to half capacity or less.

Forty percent think temperature checks for diners upon arrival may be the way to go, which is not part of the state’s directives.

Almost half the people who took the survey think requiring reservations is a good idea. But less than 30 percent want time limits for how long customers can occupy a table — which would make it easier for a restaurant to stick to a reservations-only system.

For some, it’s not a question of whether a restaurants implements the right safety measures, but what other customers do, with 77.5 percent concerned about being around other diners. One respondent want to make sure there’s enforcement: “Some companies seem scared to tell customers to follow the rules.”

Here’s a bright spot: 65 percent think they will tip servers more than they might have prior to the pandemic.

A third of respondents plan to tip the same amount as they would have previously. Four people who should probably stay home said they’ll tip less. “I would tip normally, except if I felt that I was being treated like a burden/transmission vector instead of a customer I would tip significantly less, possibly no tip at all depending upon the level of insult,” writes one person putting a whole lot of responsibility on a server.

Another customer has plans to be generous with gratuity next time they dine out: “Way WAY more! These businesses and their staff have been struggling for months, and now they are (most likely) working harder to accommodate the new criteria for safety and health.”