As the region moves into the yellow phase of the coronavirus shutdown, the look of outdoor dining in 2020 is becoming clearer.
Gone at least for the spring and early summer will be those patio bars teeming with revelers, as was the case at such restaurants as MaGerk’s in Fort Washington, which reopened its deck last Friday as the Philadelphia suburbs went yellow. Philadelphia itself is expected to join this Friday, and New Jersey is set for Monday
Before the pandemic, MaGerk’s could seat 98 people outside, including a bar set beneath tiki torches that act as fiery beacons on Bethlehem Pike. Now, with six-foot spacing mandated, MaGerk’s can accommodate 36. More dramatic: When live bands were cranking and the dining room and bar areas were full, MaGerk’s routinely reverberated with weekend crowds of 400 people.
“It’s quite a drastic difference in both sales and covers, unfortunately,” said co-owner Erin Tate.
This is the case at most restaurants.
At Rouge, which ushered in outdoor dining on Rittenhouse Square in 1998, has room for only three tables of four people, said owner Rob Wasserman. Parc will have 20 tables with 56 seats along 18th and Locust Streets.
Morgan’s Pier at Penn’s Landing will cap its seating at 250 — half of previous years’ — and will seat the crowds by reservation only. No walk-up bars are allowed.
Under the rules, whenever guests aren’t seated, they need to wear masks and they are allowed to pass through the inside of a restaurant only to access the outside or to use the restrooms. Tables are limited to 10 people. Communal tables are prohibited unless they allow at least six feet between unrelated parties.
Independence Beer Garden on Sixth Street across from the Liberty Bell will seat 180 people versus 480 in previous years, owner Michael Schulson said. He will seat 25 people outside Via Locusta, on Locust Street in Rittenhouse, and 60 outside of Sampan and Double Knot, on 13th Street near Sansom in Washington Square West; most of the seating will be by reservation.
Avram Hornik, who also owns Morgan’s Pier, struck a deal with his neighbor at Harper’s Garden to add eight tables and is installing plastic sheeting between some tables inside to allow spacing of less than six feet.
Hornik also struck a deal with the city at Rosy’s Taco Bar, at 23rd and Walnut Streets, to take over the sidewalk for 60 seats along its 90-foot frontage. A traffic lane on 23rd Street will be shut down and barricaded off to accommodate pedestrians. Meanwhile, Rosy’s takeout business on Walnut Street can proceed from the front window. (It happens to be a new sliding front window, as protesters last week smashed the plateglass window.)
At Cerdo in Conshohocken, owner Brian Pieri reconfigured his patio to raise his outdoor seating from 16 to 24. Thanks to generous borough officials, he also swung more seating at his other restaurants, Bar Lucca and StoneRose. “So far so good,” he said, just a few days in, “but I wouldn’t want it to be my long-term business model.”
Not all restaurants will flip the switch before resuming outdoor dining. For some, it’s a matter of training, setting up procedures, or determining a floor plan to satisfy social distancing.
Olivier Desaintmartin, who owns Caribou Cafe on Walnut Street near 12th, obtained rights to the sidewalk next door that will give him 30 seats, all properly spaced. In previous years, Caribou could accommodate only 18. But even so, Desaintmartin will not open Friday with the rest of the city. "I want my staff to go around town to see what others are doing, he said. He plans to incorporate best practices and open Saturday.
Benjamin Bynum, who with his brother, Robert, owns Green Soul, Relish, South, and Warmdaddy’s, says he won’t open this week. “We’re still assessing,” he said.
For other restaurateurs, the issue is staffing. Kim Strengari and Marianne Gere opened outside dining at Gypsy Saloon in West Conshohocken (taking over a parking lot to add tables) and Southern Cross Kitchen in Conshohocken (which has a patio in the rear), supplementing a strong takeout business. Strengari said they need more staff, a situation that is keeping Gypsy Blu, their Ambler restaurant, from reopening.
“I know this is a first-world problem,” Strengari said. “I get up every morning and feel blessed.”