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Pa. Restaurants Can Increase Indoor Capacity Starting Sept. 21, but Must Stop Alcohol Sales Early

by on September 08, 2020 11:27 AM

Pennsylvania restaurants can increase indoor occupancy to 50% beginning on Sept. 21, Gov. Tom Wolf said on Tuesday.

Restaurants must commit to strict compliance with public health guidelines and orders through a self-certification process.

Wolf also said restaurants will be required to close alcohol sales at 10 p.m. starting Sept. 21.

“While our aggressive and appropriate mitigation efforts have kept case counts low, we must continue to take important steps to protect public health and safety as we head into the fall," Wolf said in a statement. "At the same time, we must also support the retail food services industry that has struggled throughout this pandemic. The self-certification ensures that ‚Äčrestaurants can expand indoor operations and commit to all appropriate orders so that employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected.” 

In July, Wolf announced new restrictions that, in part, limited restaurants and bars to 25% indoor capacity. Industry leaders called on Wolf to rescind the order, saying the limited capacity would be devastating to restaurant owners and force many to close.

To increase to 50% capacity restaurants will self-certify and will appear in the Open & Certified Pennsylvania searchable online database. Self-certification documents and information about the Open & Certified Pennsylvania program will be available online on Sept. 21 and will include.

  • A list of requirements contained in the current restaurant industry guidance and enforcement efforts;   
  • A statement that the owner has reviewed and agrees to follow those requirements;  
  • The business' maximum indoor occupancy number based on the fire code; and  
  • A statement that the owner understands that the certification is subject to penalties for unsworn falsification to authorities.   

Restaurants that wish to increase to 50% on Sept. 21 must complete the self-certification process by Oct. 5. Those that do will receive window clings and signage designating their certification.

Wolf said his administration will continue a "measured approach to easing restrictions." The other targeted mitigation measures for the food service industry — including only allowing alcohol sales with meals or to go — will remain in place as restaurants increase to 50% capacity.

The self-certification process is modeled on a similar measure in Connecticut and the directive to stop alcohol sales at 10 p.m. is based on Ohio's.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference that the 10 p.m. restriction is particularly aimed at preventing college students from congregating in bars/restaurants.

"We have seen a significant increase in terms of the [case] numbers in 19-to-24-year-olds," she said. "Those numbers throughout the state have been going up significantly. We have seen outbreaks at many colleges in Pennsylvania. [College and university administrators are] recommending them not to congregate in parties. We didn’t want them to congregate in restaurants/bars and be all together and so we put in the mitigation effort to prevent them from serving liquor after 10 o’clock."

Wolf said the certification is a way to boost consumer confidence, citing a Longwoods International study of U.S. travelers that found only 40 percent of Americans are comfortable dining in local restaurants. 

“We recognize the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Pennsylvania’s small businesses, especially on our restaurants,” Wolf said. “Through this self-certification process, our commonwealth’s restaurant industry will ensure the safety and well-being of both employees and patrons alike, and will be able to begin a return to normal operations and financial recovery.”  

Restaurant owners with questions about the self-certification program can contact [email protected]. 

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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