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Some Pennsylvania restaurants say they will defy indoor-dining ban, trade group says

The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association surveyed restaurants, who said 26,250 hospitality employees were laid off and more than $1.5 million in food was wasted last weekend.

Outdoor dining, as well as takeout and delivery, is the only option in Pennsylvania.
Outdoor dining, as well as takeout and delivery, is the only option in Pennsylvania.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Some Pennsylvania restaurant owners have told the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association that they would defy Gov. Tom Wolf’s order by keeping their dining rooms open.

The state’s shutdown order, which went into effect Saturday, Dec. 12, has already come at a heavy human and financial cost, the PRLA said, quoting a survey conducted over the weekend.

The survey’s 1,546 respondents, representing 5.8% of 26,500 food establishments across Pennsylvania, reported that 26,250 hospitality employees were laid off and more than $1.5 million in food was wasted due to the short notice of the shutdown. Some of the food was donated, the PRLA said.

The administration announced at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, that indoor dining would be prohibited effective 32 hours later — from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, to 8 a.m. Jan. 4. Additional restrictions also were placed on indoor gatherings, including gyms, as the state responded to the massive surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

» READ MORE: Some Philadelphia restaurants plan to close until 2021

The order applies to businesses throughout Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia, which effective 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, banned indoor dining in the city. Philadelphia announced its order on the afternoon of Nov. 16, giving restaurateurs, staffs, vendors, and customers about four days’ notice.

Notice is crucial, as restaurants order perishable food and arrange work schedules. In late July, Philadelphia officials apologized to restaurants for offering about four days’ notice when they chose to extend the first ban on indoor dining.

The PRLA noted that the survey results are based on less than 6% of Pennsylvania’s restaurants, so it anticipates the true number of layoffs to be significantly higher. The survey “quantifies the willingness of many businesses to defy the orders,” the PRLA said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf said based on initial reports, “a vast majority of Pennsylvania businesses are following the time-limited mitigation orders.”

» READ MORE: About half of Pennsylvania's restaurants say they're in danger of failing, survey says

The group said layoffs would mount, absent the return of indoor dining.

“These numbers are a direct result of the Wolf administration’s refusal to heed the recommendations and expertise of PRLA. The reported backlash and willingness to defy orders are directly proportional to the level of vitriol, outrage, and frustration expressed by business owners who express they have no other choice but to go it on their own to offer indoor dining to continue to pay employees.”

» READ MORE: Some restaurant owners see restrictions as the final blow

John Longstreet, the PRLA’s president and CEO, said the industry is “on the brink of disaster. … This is the perfect storm of economic breakdown and government indifference to burden of businesses.”

The spokesperson for Wolf said it is not the fault of restaurant, bar, or gym owners or their employees that COVID-19 spreads easily in these conditions — it’s the nature of the disease. Since this summer, she said, Wolf has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Restaurants Act and to direct COVID relief funding to Pennsylvania’s restaurant and bar industry.