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

If the experiences in the Pennsylvania suburbs are any guide, it’s not a financial success. Patrons and some staff members seem opposed to it.

Pre-pandemic seating in the window at Steak 48, Broad and Spruce Streets. The restaurant has scheduled its premiere for Sept. 15.
Pre-pandemic seating in the window at Steak 48, Broad and Spruce Streets. The restaurant has scheduled its premiere for Sept. 15.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

If coronavirus trends hold, restaurants in Philadelphia will be permitted to serve patrons inside their dining rooms on Sept. 8, nearly six months after officials shut them down in a move designed to stem the disease’s spread.

But in Philadelphia’s suburbs, where indoor dining was restored nearly two months ago — first at 50%, then to 25% after Gov. Wolf cited patrons not following social-distancing guidelines — restaurateurs report that it has not helped the bottom line. They are still focused on outdoor dining and takeout, albeit a fraction of their pre-pandemic business.

What is happening in the suburbs could be an example for the hundreds of Philadelphia’s restaurateurs who are deciding whether to open inside.

That 25% capacity is not sustainable for bars or restaurants, according to both John Longstreet, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, and Chuck Moran of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. The battered industry believes that it is being punished for the actions of sloppy patrons and careless owners. Restaurants always must adhere to health codes, and responsible operators take safety seriously, they said.

It ‘makes things less terrible’

With the green light for 25% occupancy two weeks away, it appears that the more spacious restaurants, such as Parc on Rittenhouse Square, are planning to open indoors. Many smaller restaurants, though, will not offer indoor seating, at least initially, among them Fond and Le Virtu in South Philadelphia, Wood Street Pizza in North Philadelphia, Bloomsday in Society Hill, Chloe BYOB in Old City, and ElMerkury in Rittenhouse.

Capacity considerations aside, restaurateurs have found that some staffers and most patrons don’t want to work or eat indoors.

“I don’t plan to let anyone in until we don’t have to worry about arguing with guests over masks,” said Ringo Roseman, owner of the Bagel Place in the city’s Queen Village neighborhood.

» READ MORE: Outdoor dining can resume in Philadelphia on Sept. 8

For some it’s a matter of comfort. “With all the media attention, I would say 99% of our customers would rather eat outside,” said Heather Murray, who with her husband, Ed, owns Vince’s Pizzeria & Taproom in Newtown, Bucks County. She said they seat only two or three tables indoors on a weekend night, and one or two on a weeknight. Like many suburban restaurants, the Murrays had room for outdoor dining, where they set up 23 tables.

“Twenty-five percent, which is really 20% with the spacing, makes things less terrible, but it’s still not good,” said Brian Pieri, who owns Cerdo, Bar Lucca, and The StoneRose in Conshohocken. “It’s better than not having anything.”

Michael DiDomenico at 30 Main in Berwyn, who now can seat 100 people outside, said the restaurant will seat patrons inside by request only. “It’s not worth staffing indoor and outdoor,” he said. “Without the bar [open for guests], it is not worth it.”

Besides 6-foot spacing between tables, masking, and 25% occupancy — standard practice statewide — Philadelphia’s guidelines call for servers to also wear face shields and for tables to be limited to four people. Last call for indoor orders will be 11 p.m. with closing at midnight. Employees must be screened and sent away if they show symptoms.

“If a mask and shield are both necessary, doesn’t that mean it’s not safe for anyone to be eating inside?” asked Katie Chase, a manager at The Love, near Rittenhouse Square.

“I’d feel better if diners wore masks the whole time and we wouldn’t approach [the table] unless everyone wears a mask,” said Thaddeus Dynakowski, an unemployed waiter. “This is such a difficult situation for our industry because we are more or less programmed to put the guests’ [experience] above our own and when a server advocates for themselves with guests, it’s considered bad service.”

» READ MORE: COVID-19 has shut hundreds of the Philly-area’s small businesses, Yelp says. And that’s just for starters.

Wait and see?

Chef Marc Vetri, who has been vocal about the need to reopen restaurants, declined over the weekend to divulge his plans for his two Philly establishments: Fiorella, his snug spot in the Italian Market, and Vetri Cucina, his destination restaurant in Center City.

Those that expect to open Sept. 8 include Square 1682, Red Owl Tavern, and Urban Farmer — all located inside Center City hotels; Dim Sum House in Rittenhouse and University City; Evil Genius Beer Co. in Fishtown; Tradesman’s and Bru in Washington Square West; Blume and in Rittenhouse; Jerry’s Bar in Northern Liberties; Fork in Old City; The Post and Walnut Street Cafe in University City; and the Bourse food hall across from Independence Mall. Forsythia, a bistro in Old City, plans to offer a few tables. McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Washington Square West, which dates to 1860 and survived Prohibition by serving “tea” from a side window, plans to seat 60 people on its two floors.

Steak 48, a massive steakhouse that has been ready to open since the early summer, will open Sept. 15 after serving test meals.

Other restaurateurs are taking a wait-and-see approach, such as Ed Crochet and Justine MacNeil at Fiore Fine Foods in the city’s Queen Village neighborhood. “We don’t want to be the first people to do anything,” Crochet said, adding that they are consulting with their staff, who may be uneasy about it.

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Others, such as Tony Rim, who owns 1225Raw in Washington Square West, gave an emphatic no when asked if he would open indoors. “It’s not worth it,” he said. “I’ll just keep doing the courtyard and sidewalk, plus we have the street closure from Thursday to Sunday.”

Rim, comfortable with current health practices, scoffed at the Mayor’s Office’s call for mandated mask and face shields: “They might as well cover the entire body with surgical gear.”