PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Indoor dining is officially back in Philadelphia. Many restaurants had to transform themselves over the last few months, and while indoor dining is allowed again in Philly, the transformation continues.
“We are expecting to be slow for a few days, but I know little by little we are going to be full,” Mixto Restaurante owner Mercy Mosquera said.
Restaurant owners are rolling with the punches as indoor dining resumes in Philadelphia
“Taking one step at a time, moving forward. I think it’s just a great way for everybody to just kind of acclimate and get adjusted to the next step,” Fork Restaurant Owner Ellen Yin said.
General Manager at Yards Brewery Frank McLaughlin said, “It’s still weird. It’s going to take some time.”
Indoor capacity is set at 25% and there can be no more than four people per table. Also, tables have to be arranged so diners are at least six feet away from each other. When that isn’t possible, a barrier must be placed in between the tables.
“Of course we lost a lot of seats and tables but it’s great that we have to open. We are going to open again so that’s OK, that’s fine,” Mosquera said.
At the Penrose Diner in South Philly, the diner can accommodate about 17 tables, which are all spaced at least six feet apart by skipping every other booth. Servers are wearing facemasks and face shields as required by the city.
“It’s a great day for us, it’s like the first day of school,” said Cynthia Branche, manager of the Penrose Diner.
The Penrose saw a steady stream of regulars since opening up at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
“It was the people we know. The waitresses, they are really good to us every time we’re here,” said Denise Palmieri of South Philadelphia.
“I always get their Florentine omelet,” said Kristina Hollingsworth, also of South Philadelphia. “It’s like spinach, feta. It’s my absolute favorite here.”
There are barriers around the host stand and counter where delivery drivers pick up food. There are also handwashing stations for staff and hand sanitizing stations for customers. It seems people feel secure about the safety measures, as the diner has been at capacity all morning.
“We have loyal customers and we have people who love it here. So we’re so excited that they all came back and that they’re all dining in this morning,” Branche said. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s a great day for us, it’s like the first day of school.”
Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s health secretary moved Philadelphia to the so-called “green phase” of reopening back in late June. That is when indoor dining could’ve technically resumed. However, Mayor Jim Kenney and Philly’s health commissioner held off because they say the city wasn’t hitting key benchmarks on virus transmission.
And now restaurants say their main goal is to make sure staff and diners feel safe.
“We’re concerned for our customers and for the staff and we will follow every procedure we have to follow,” McLaughlin said.
You won’t be able to belly up to the bar, you must be at a table. However, those to-go cocktails are here to stay for a little while longer and so is outdoor dining and these so-called “streeteries.”
“I know all of the safety precautions are difficult,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner. “I know it’s difficult to maintain these, but we need to continue to limit how we get together to avoid getting more cases and more deaths.”
Some restaurants have decided it’s not worth the risk. Ginza Sushi and Ramen on South Front Street posted on its social media pages that the small restaurant can only serve three tables under the current restrictions. Ginza’s owner is also waiting to see if indoor dining leads to a spike in the city’s COVID-19 cases.
Bing Bing Dim Sum on East Passyunk Avenue also posted on its Instagram account that it’s just too soon to open to indoor diners.
To encourage people to eat out again, the Philadelphia Parking Authority announced that it is offering $7 flat-rate parking after 5 p.m. at six city garages starting Tuesday through Nov. 30. Those garages include:
- Parkade on 8th (801 Filbert Street)
- Autopark at the Fashion District (44 North 9th Street)
- The Family Courthouse Garage (1503 Arch Street)
- Autopark at Jefferson (10th & Ludlow Streets)
- Autopark at Independence Mall (5th & Market Streets)
- Autopark at Old City (2nd & Sansom Streets)
Meanwhile, Gov. Wolf announced Tuesday morning that restaurants in Pennsylvania can increase capacity to 5o% starting Sept. 21. Philadelphia is unlikely to expand capacity though, as health officials have been following their own guidelines based on the city’s numbers.
CBS3’s Howard Monroe and Trang Do contributed to this report.