As the weather chills, many restaurateurs are warming further to the idea of indoor dining, mindful that a significant percentage of patrons say they will not dine in and that staffers are generally wary of it.
From a business standpoint, indoor dining at reduced occupancy is barely moving the needle. Still, while settling in for a long slog of cold weather, restaurateurs are getting creative in their methods to create social distancing and safety.
Many simply seat parties at alternate tables. The new Steak 48 in Center City puts large floral arrangements on unused tables, for example, to maintain distancing.
Some have upgraded their systems, such as 30 Main in Berwyn and Cuba Libre in Old City, which installed UV-C lighting and electrostatic air filters.
Plastic is another way to go. From the start of the shutdown in March, most businesses installed acrylic panels to shield counter workers and cashiers from the public. Double Visions, a Horsham go-go bar, put clear plastic dividers between the stools.
Plastic is also coming into favor in the dining room. Health codes say that tables can be placed closer than the mandated six feet if they are separated by barriers that extend six feet from the floor. Marc Vetri uses panels to separate patrons at Vetri Cucina in Center City (which has no outdoor dining) and at the counter at Fiorella in South Philadelphia (which does).
In Chester County, the new Bloom Southern Kitchen in Chester Springs, which lacks outdoor seating, has suspended panels from the ceiling.
The new Clementine’s Stable Cafe in North Philadelphia, which offers outdoor dining, has plastic panels on wheels that can be positioned anywhere in the dining room that needs distancing.
The Olde Bar, Jose Garces' bar on the previous site of Old Original Bookbinder’s at Second and Walnut Streets in Old City, reopened recently. Designers were inspired by a library when they set up the dining room, which previously had been used for events.
Fourteen private dining nooks have been set up. Some have classic emerald green reading lamps placed on library desks. The result: plenty of spacing with a library feeling that mitigates any feeling of isolation. In the bar dining room, every other banquette is unoccupied to keep guests more than six feet apart.
The Olde Bar also has outdoor dining as well as takeout and delivery, with food served from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.