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Dining out deals, angry restaurateurs

If you want a Saturday night table at a hot Philadelphia restaurant, it's yours.

That includes half-price deals at Vetri.

Restaurateurs, particularly in or near the papal security zone, have been reporting soft business all week, with little improvement through Saturday.

Said Stephen Starr, who owns about a dozen Philadelphia restaurants: "This affected business worse than Hurricane Sandy. The city scared all of our customers away. We have virtually no reservations. This is unnecessary overkill. What should have been a feeling of family and community was turned into a police and military operation."

The slowdown seems to have affected restaurants at all price points. Business at the three casual Marathon Grills in Center City has been "terrible, especially at 1818 Market St.," said Cary Borish, whose family owns the restaurants. "We spent a huge amount of timing planning and investing in a lot of food and we wound up donating much of it today. Major bummer." He cited poor planning on the city's part.

The reservation site OpenTable showed plenty of available seats.

Pod, the popular Starr restaurant in University City, will be closed Sunday because many of the access roads are blocked. Hop Sing Laundromat, a cocktail bar in Chinatown, closed after business Thursday. Chinatown was a ghost town Friday night.

Michael Schulson said he had to close his casual Independence Beer Garden, across from Independence Mall. Business is off at the posher Sampan. "This is a great opportunity for Philadelphia and our community but due to the enormity of this event it's been a little challenging," he said Saturday afternoon.

In Fairmount, London Grill owner Terry McNally said the restaurant was slow but the bar was doing OK, thanks to locals and a lot of volunteers. "It's just not the business we expected and not the usual business," she said. "We shall see. Overall, it's a very bad week for all of us."

In fact, at least one establishment plans to celebrate the return to normalcy. Bar Bombon, near Rittenhouse Square, is hosting a Post Pope industry night starting at 8 p.m. Sunday with discounted drinks.

At Vetri, "I can tell you that we're open and we have reservations available," said general manager Chuck Listenbe.

The restaurant is celebrating its 17th anniversary Sunday night with a fixed-price menu featuring classic dishes for half of what they typically charge, $75, compared with the normal $150.

At the Oyster House, owner Sam Mink saw business was halved this week. His lobster rolls were moving swimmingly, but at deep discounts: $15 at lunch, instead of the usual $26.

He said he was happy to see Pope Francis in town, but "I definitely feel for some of the smaller restaurants that are going to be struggling a little bit more."