While some Pennsylvanians are finally enjoying a seat at the bar or in the barbershop after a two-and-a-half month hiatus, Philadelphians and those in the surrounding counties are still biding their time. But on Friday, almost all of the state’s counties are scheduled to move into the yellow phase. The exception may be Philadelphia, where coronavirus restrictions might remain in place, Mayor Jim Kenney cautioned even before recent days’ peaceful protests, destructive looting, and curfews.

And the yellow phase holds the prospect of at least one cautious and careful step toward normalcy: outdoor dining, a hallmark of summertime.

As with the green phase, which allows indoor and outdoor dining at reduced capacities, there are plenty of restrictions, some required, others suggested. Here’s what to expect at local bars and restaurants when counties move into the yellow phase.

Where can I be in a restaurant in the yellow phase? Will I need to wear a mask?

Only outside seating — on patios, rooftops, porches, and sidewalks — is allowed. Outdoor counter seating is allowed, but not if the counter faces a bartender. Until we get to the green phase, bar seating remains a no-go. Dance floors, play areas, and arcade games are off-limits, too.

Customers are only allowed to pass through the inside of a restaurant to access the outside or to use the restrooms, and they must be seated to be served in-house. (No standing, even in the green phase.)

Whenever guests aren’t seated, they need to wear masks. The only exceptions are children under 2 and those who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition. Employees must also wear masks.

Restaurants are required to have signs, like this one at Morgan's Pier, or tape that remind people to stay socially distanced while dining outdoors.
Restaurants are required to have signs, like this one at Morgan's Pier, or tape that remind people to stay socially distanced while dining outdoors.

How many tables will there be, and how will they be set up?

Since many outdoor dining areas don’t have fire-code designations specifying maximum capacity, restaurant owners will be limited by the number of tables they can safely fit in their space according to social distancing guidelines.

Tables need to be spaced out so that individuals seated at them are at least 6 feet away from individuals seated elsewhere. Restaurants also need to leave room for passersby to socially distance from seated diners. Owners need to provide visual guides that remind customers of distancing guidelines, so expect to see taped-off areas and signs demarcating 6 feet in and around restaurants.

How many people can be at one table?

The state encouraged a limit of 10 people to a table. Communal tables are prohibited unless they allow at least 6 feet of distance between unrelated parties.

Will there be plastic barriers?

The guidelines don’t mandate that restaurants install physical barriers to keep customers and/or staff distanced, but they are encouraged for point-of-sale spots like cash registers and host stands. And in the green phase, barriers might allow restaurant owners to seat more customers inside.

Plexiglass and plastic sheets — even shower curtains — have been installed at pharmacies, supermarkets, and coffee shops since the pandemic broke out. Now they’re being employed in dining establishments in various cities and countries, from San Francisco to South Korea, as a way to allow customers to sit in closer proximity while still staying apart.

Besides separating a host or clerk from a customer, the barriers can segment spaces at bars and counters, and provide separation between booths or even customers eating at the same table.

How is service going to change?

For one, menus will be either disposable or digital, or written on display boards. And if you want to (re)season your food, you’ll have to ask: Condiments aren’t allowed to sit out on the table. Buffets, salad bars, and self-serve beverage stations are prohibited in the yellow phase, and customers won’t be allowed to refill their own containers (growlers, coffee thermoses, etc.). Real silverware, however, can stay.

Reservations for outdoor dining — which is traditionally first-come, first-served — are encouraged by the state. (This is also a way to collect contact information for diners for future contact tracing.) If lines form while people wait to be seated, they need to be socially distanced. State guidelines also recommend doing away with buzzers to let people know when their tables are ready.

There will be increased cleaning of front- and back-of-house areas in the restaurant, including disinfecting tables and any barriers between customers.

What the outdoor dining configuration might look like at the Stove & Tap in Malvern.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
What the outdoor dining configuration might look like at the Stove & Tap in Malvern.

What if a restaurant and bar doesn’t really have outdoor space?

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced it would streamline the process for approving applications for extension of premise, which allows restaurants to serve alcohol outside their buildings. That should allow places to get more creative with outdoor space this summer: They might set up tables in their parking lots, in front of agreeable neighboring businesses, and in streets (if local governments allow).

What about the bathroom?

They’ll be cleaned more often, and restaurants will need to demarcate the necessary distancing in lines that form outside of them. You can also expect to see more touchless sinks and soap and paper towel dispensers, and possibly UVC lighting, in bathrooms.

Will cocktails to-go still be available?

Yes, those won’t go away until restaurants rebound to 60% of their normal capacity.