PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Restaurants in Philadelphia are facing yet another setback after city officials announced Tuesday afternoon that the city is delaying indoor dining until at least Sept. 1 due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Butcher Bar in Rittenhouse Square is better equipped than most restaurants to deal with the disappointing news. Pre-pandemic, the meat-focused restaurant already had sidewalk dining and a full patio outback.
“We’re really lucky,” said chef John Strain. “I feel bad for the restaurants that can’t accommodate outdoor seating at all.”
The city initially planned to allow indoor dining on Aug. 1, but with COVID-19 cases on the rise, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley announced that he is pushing back that date.
“Indoor dining is inherently risky,” he said. “People are indoors, where we know the risk is greater, people are not wearing masks because they’re eating and drinking. Also, there have been clusters in restaurants that have occurred across the country and in other counties in Pennsylvania.”
Restaurants in the city, closed to indoor dining since mid-March, have been making lots of changes in anticipation of welcoming diners back inside.
“We did a whole barrier around the kitchen, clear Plexiglass screens, little hand sanitizer stations throughout the restaurant,” Strain said. “I think we are pretty much ready to go when they do give us the green light.”
For now, Butcher Bar has relied heavily on takeout customers and is opening a new outdoor space that can accommodate three dozen additional diners.
“We just rented out these parking spots from the parking lot next door to increase our outside seating,” Strain said. “It’s been tough, but we’re trying to make the best of it and see it through.”
Another restaurant manager Eyewitness News spoke with says he understands the decision, even though he’d like to have people inside once again.
It’s a tale of two restaurants — Rex 1516 has done just takeout since the pandemic started, no outdoor dining. But across the street, Jet Wine Bar has a massive outdoor garden and so-called streetery, welcoming guests six feet apart.
“We’re lucky that we’re all under the same umbrella,” Nick Baitzel said.
Baitzel helps manage them. He says business has been great at Jet, and plans are in place for Rex if indoor dining is allowed in about a month.
“Say you have four people dining. They would have some sort of Plexiglass barrier here. Even with the barrier, you still need six feet before the next table,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of places that are itching and ready to open but places like Rex and like Jet that have such a small footprint, when you’re talking 25% capacity, you’re thinking is it even worth it at that point?” Baitzel said.
Baitzel says the owners will likely focus on the outdoor scene at the sister restaurant across the street, waiting until it’s safer to welcome guests inside.
“We want to keep our staff and our guests safe. And until that is an option, we’re not gonna even look at indoor dining,” he said.
Many Philadelphia restaurants are tiny. Only the larger ones can safely welcome indoor guests.
Baitzel says it’s possible Rex could open for private events or parties once the green light is given.
Restaurants outside of Philadelphia are allowing indoor dining at 25% capacity.
Dr. Farley says if the city’s numbers do not improve, indoor dining in could be pushed back even farther than September.
CBS3’s Trang Do and Greg Argos contributed to this report.