Outdoor Dining in South Philly: New COVID-19 Safety Guidelines

Outdoor dining returned to Philadelphia on June 12. But dining alfresco will look a bit different this year. Here’s what you need to know.

In an effort to keep customers safe during the “yellow” and “green” phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State and City have issued new rules and regulations. Here’s our summary of the highlights:

  • Hours of operation are limited to 8 a.m. -10 p.m.
  • Masks are mandatory for employees except during breaks
  • Customers must wear masks when they’re not seated
  • Employees will be screened before their shifts.
  • Social distancing guidelines will continue to apply:
    • Tables are arranged so the backs of chairs are at least six feet apart.
    • A clear path of six feet must be maintained for people passing by.

For restaurants that don’t have existing outdoor dining permits, the City of Philadelphia recognizes the need to add this as an option and encourages them to apply.  According to Deputy Managing Director Mike Carroll, the city will try to issue permits within three days which is much quicker than the normal process. According to the City’s website, “restaurants will have four potential options based on their location:

  1. Sidewalk Café — Allows for daily use of sidewalk area in front of the business for restaurant seating.
  2. Streetery — Allows for curbside parking at street level (or platform built on the street) to be converted into outdoor dining or take-away area for food and beverages.
  3. Temporary use of private lots for dining  — Allows restaurants to convert spaces in their parking lots into restaurant seating and to place seating onto vacant lots in most commercial and mixed-use zoning districts.
  4. Temporary street closure — Pilot program beginning this summer that allows for temporary closure of certain streets for restaurant seating.

Francis Cretarola, the owner of East Passyunk’s Le Virtu, has been able to make the transition pretty easily. Cretarola said, “Our experience so far with outdoor dining has been very positive. We’re lucky to have a unique space with our garden and patio…And we’ve made a very diligent and concerted effort to distance the tables according to CDC and State guidelines…We’ve got many friends and family in Italy, and we knew very early on how serious the coronavirus was. So, we realized we had a great responsibility to strive, as best we could, to create a safe place to dine.” 

In order to keep things safe, the restaurant has made some changes to their water and bread service and have increased cleaning. He feels that the biggest challenge to adapting to new restrictions is “muscle memory”. Most of their staff has been with the restaurant for a long time, “so they’re used to doing things a certain way.” Guests also have to remember to wear masks when they enter the building. Even though it may be an inconvenience, he says “guests have been great, understanding, and generally appreciative.”

Adam Leiter, Executive Director of East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, also stresses the importance of safety during this time. “The East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District has been closely following updates from the city and state over the last few months and keeping restaurants informed of requirements and best practices along the way. It’s been important for the restaurateurs to be approaching this carefully and keeping both patron and employee safety in mind.”

Please check out our list of restaurants, in addition to Le Virtu, offering outdoor dining in South Philly.