Pennsylvania Releases Guidance for Restaurants Operating During the Covid-19 Disaster Emergency

As business begin to reopen during this pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has issued guidance for restaurants and food services businesses.  Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) is easily transmitted, especially in group settings.  COVID-19 can be transmitted from infected individuals who are asymptomatic or are experiencing mild symptoms, such as a cough. It can also be spread to individuals who touch a surface that has active virus on it and then they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.  The virus is dangerous, even deadly, and thus public health officials have deemed it a priority to limit and reduce the spread to safeguard public health and safety. As a result, all restaurants were ordered to shutdown “on premise” service in March.  The Governor and the Secretary of Health initiated a reopening plan that categorized counties by color depending on the rate of new Covid-19 cases.  When counties average fewer than 50 new positive cases of the virus per 100,000 residents for 14 days, it can begin moving from Red to Yellow to Green thus allowing more mobility and fewer restriction within that county.

Beginning June 5, 2020 Berks; Bucks; Chester; Delaware; Lackawanna; Lancaster; Lehigh; Northampton: and Philadelphia Counties in the Southeastern portion of the Commonwealth will move from the “Red” to the “Yellow” phase of reopening.  Restaurants in counties that have shifted to Yellow will be permitted to:

  • Offer take-out and delivery sales;
  • Dine-in on premises service so long as it is in an outdoor seating section and patrons may not be seated at a bar or counter;
  • Indoor areas, including bar areas, of restaurants and retail food service businesses must be closed to customers except for through-traffic for employee access or customer access to restroom facilities;
  • Customers being served for on premise service must be seated at a table.
  • Customers and servers must wear face mask.

Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren Counties are expected to move to the Green phase of reopening on May 29, 2020, other counties that are currently in Yellow are expected to follow in upcoming weeks.  Restaurants located in Green designated counties will be allowed:

  • Provide take-out and delivery sales;
  • Dine-in on premises service for both indoor and outdoor seating areas, so long as business strictly adhere to State guidelines and comply with physical distancing guideline of at least 6 feet or physical barriers between customers.
  • Standing in a bar area will not be permitted;
  • A maximum of four customers that have a common relationship may sit together at the bar, while observing physical distancing guidelines or barriers between other customers;
  • No business is required to conduct in-person operations and should not do so if the business is unable to do so in accordance with all applicable guidance.
  • Customers and servers must wear face mask.

All businesses and employees in the restaurant and retail food service industry operating during the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency must do the following:  Require all customers to wear masks while entering, exiting, or otherwise traveling throughout the restaurant or business, however face coverings may be removed while seated. Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition or children under the age of two years are not required to wear masks and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition.  Businesses must provide at least six feet between tables, the six feet requirement cannot include the space taken up by the seated guest. If tables or other seating are not movable, parties must seated at least six feet apart. Spacing must also allow for physical distancing from areas outside of the business’s control such as sidewalks must allow pedestrians to pass with at least six feet of distance to customer. 

Maximum occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor areas will be strictly enforced. Maximum occupancy will be calculated using the one of two methods. (1) limit capacity to 50% of stated fire capacity or 12 people per 1,000 square feet if there is not a fire code number available. Or (2) arrange the restaurant or retail food service business so that customers sitting at a table are not within six feet of any customers sitting at another table in any direction and then calculate the maximum number of customers that can be accommodated.  The more restrictive number must be used by enforcement officials.  Shared tables among multiple parties should not be used unless the seats can be arranged to maintain six feet of distance between parties. If seating is not staff facilitated and tables cannot be moved to meet the physical distancing requirements, tables that should not be used must be clearly marked as out of service.  Businesses should close or remove amenities and gathering areas non-essential to the preparation and service of food or beverages such as dance floors, child play areas, interactive games, and video arcades.  Employees should be trained on the importance and expectation of increased frequency of handwashing, the use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and provide clear instructions to avoid touching hands to face.   Employees should be assigned to monitor and clean high touch areas frequently while in operation including entrance doors, bathroom surfaces, host stands and continue to regularly clean all other areas of the restaurant or retail food service businesses.  All items shared among customers such as tabletops, digital menus, check presenters, and digital payment devices should be cleaned and disinfect any after each customer use.

Other protections being recommended include:

  • Physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signage on walls to ensure that customers remain at least six feet apart in lines or waiting areas.  Customers ordering take-out should wait in their vehicles after ordering;
  • Business should provide non-medical masks for employees to wear at all times and make it mandatory to wear masks while at the restaurant or retail food service business;
  • Where possible, stagger workstations to avoid employees standing adjacent or next to each other. The number of employees in shared spaces, including break rooms, and offices should be limited to maintain at least a six-foot distance;
  • Dishwashing machines should be checked that they are operating at the required specifications using the property detergents and cleaning agents;
  • Implement procedures to increase cleaning and sanitizing frequency in the back of house. Avoid all food contact surfaces when using disinfectants;
  • Establish a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person to implement the plan;
  • Prior to each shift, ask that the employees self-measure their temperature and assess symptoms;
  • Utilize reservations for dining on premises to maintain records of all appointments, including contact information for all customers;
  • Use staff-facilitated seating where appropriate;
  • Allow no more than 10 people at a table, unless they are a family from the same household;
  • Use single-use disposable menus (e.g., paper) and discard after each customer, or utilize a written posting such as a chalkboard or whiteboard to relay menu information;
  • Use technology solutions where possible to reduce person-to-person interaction, including mobile ordering; text or phone app technology to alert customers when their table is ready to avoid use of “buzzers;” and contactless payment options;
  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at point of sale terminals, cash registers, bars, host stands, and other areas where maintaining physical distance of six feet is difficult;
  • Schedule closure periods throughout the day to allow for cleaning and disinfecting, including bathrooms (i.e., after lunch service);
  • When protective equipment such as face coverings are used, launder or replace daily and wash hands after touching/adjusting face covering while working.

Businesses permitted to operate in the Yellow phase counties are prohibited from doing the following:

  • Using self-service food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and condiments.
  • Using reusable menus, other than digital menus sanitized after each use;
  • Refilling food and beverage containers or implements brought in by customers;

Failure to strictly adhere to the requirements of Commonwealth’s guidance may result in disciplinary actions up to and including suspension of licensure, including liquor licenses. 

Contact Butera Beausang Cohen and Brennan with questions about operating during the emergency

– J. Ken Butera

Posted in Newsletters, Restaurant / Liquor License