This weekend and early next week, two holdouts on indoor dining, New Jersey and Philadelphia, will ease restrictions and allow 25% capacity inside restaurants. It starts at 6 a.m. Friday in New Jersey and on Tuesday in Philadelphia (the same day theaters — for movies and otherwise — are allowed to reopen).

It’s not clear if 25% is enough to sustain restaurants of any size, nor how many will partake. Some owners have pushed to open inside, some are deferring, some are opposed.

Also unclear is if diners are fully on board with eating indoors. Despite being allowed to serve customers inside since June, some restaurants in Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia suburbs have reported that customers prefer outdoor seating.

Many guidelines already established for dining continue, including posting signage to promote physical distancing and discourage crowding; screening staff at the beginning of shifts; placing hand sanitizer stations throughout restaurants; and closing off areas that aren’t used for seating (such as play areas, dance floors).

» READ MORE: There’s more to COVID safety than 6 feet of social distance. Here’s what else to consider.

Here are some rules customers, business owners, and workers should be following in the latest phase of reopening:

New Jersey

For customers:

  • Groups are capped at eight customers per table, unless everyone is from the same household.

  • Wear masks at all times, except when eating or drinking at their table. When diners are inside, masks should be worn before food arrives and after one is done eating. Customers without masks should be turned away except for those with a medical reason for not wearing one, or for children under 2.

  • Bar seating is allowed, as long as customers are seated (no standing) and are distanced six feet from other parties. Groups sitting at the bar are limited to four people.

  • Reservations are strongly encouraged.

  • Be prepared to wait in your car or outside if a table is not immediately available.

For workers:

  • Wear a mask at all times, except when it endangers one’s health or creates an unsafe condition (working over an open flame). Employers should provide masks.

  • Minimize time spent close to customers, and take breaks for hand-washing throughout the day. Outdoor breaks are encouraged.

  • Don’t use a small space, such as a walk-in, at the same time as other workers.

» READ MORE: New Jersey’s restaurants and casinos do the math on reopening indoors

For businesses:

  • Limit the number of patrons to 25% of establishment’s indoor capacity, excluding staff. Tables should be spaced to leave six feet between seated guests.

  • Install barriers or partitions where physical distancing is difficult, such as near cash registers, bars, and host stands.

  • Buffets and salad bars are forbidden; self-service drink stations are allowed only if they are routinely disinfected.

  • Limit the number of customers allowed inside the restrooms at once.

  • Ensure live performers are at least 10 feet from customers and staff.

  • When possible, open windows and doors and use fans to promote cross-ventilation. Have the ventilation system inspected and maintenanced, and run it for two hours before and after service.

  • Cleaning logs with date, time, and scope should be kept.

  • According to New Jersey’s health and safety guidelines pursuant to the most recent indoor dining order, “In the event of a presumptive or actual positive COVID-19 case of a worker, patron, or vendor, the restaurant must be immediately shut down for 24 hours and then must be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with current CDC guidance before re-opening.”


For customers:

  • Groups will be capped at four people inside (six outside).

  • Be prepared to make reservations or, if walking in, give your name and number for contact tracing.

  • Expect to be asked if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have had exposure to someone with COVID-19 in the last two weeks before allowing them into dining areas. (The city doesn’t require taking temperatures.)

  • You must wear a mask whenever you aren’t seated at your table.

  • No bar seating is allowed.

  • If you’re drinking, you must also order a meal, defined by the Pennsylvania Liquor Code as “food prepared on the premises, sufficient to constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner.” (Pretzels, popcorn, chips, or similar food will not cut it.) Statewide, one meal per group is sufficient.

  • Staff will provide you with packaging to box up your own leftovers.

» READ MORE: What servers want you to know as indoor dining resumes in Philly

For workers:

  • Indoor servers must wear both masks and face shields (to be provided by the restaurant), and should try to stay six feet from customers and one another when possible.

  • Employee breaks should be staggered, and hourly hand-washing breaks are encouraged.

  • Employers should have sick-leave policies in place and make sure workers know about free COVID-19 test sites.

  • According to the city’s guidance for essential businesses, “Employees who were in the same indoor environment with a COVID-19 case, but not meeting criteria for a close contact (i.e., being in a room more than 6ft away from the case) should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after their last contact with the case and isolate if symptoms develop.”

  • Employees who have had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in a non-household setting (if they were coughed on or within roughly 6 feet of the person for 10 minutes or longer) should stay home and self-isolate for 14 days even if they do not develop symptoms.

  • Proof of testing is not required to go back to work.

» READ MORE: Philly restaurants got the green light for indoor dining at lower capacity. Do owners think it’s worth it?

For businesses:

  • Dining rooms are limited to 25% capacity, with tables spaced to leave six feet between seated guests. If partitions are installed between tables, the tables need not be six feet apart.

  • Do not allow lines longer than 10 customers to form in or around facilities.

  • Use digital, chalkboard, or paper menus (which should be discarded after every use).

  • Condiments should not be shared; either use single-serve packets or individual portions in washable cups or bowls.

  • In spaces where physical distancing is difficult, restaurants should install sneeze guards or partitions.

  • When possible, open windows and doors to promote cross-ventilation. Other ventilation recommendations include HVAC maintenance and setting changes to maximize the amount of outside air coming in. HEPA filters are not mandatory.

» READ MORE: Wiping surfaces is fine for the coronavirus, but the main risk is through the air. How to tell if your ventilation is OK.