Pennsylvania restaurant owners are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief after Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that they may increase the number of people inside their establishments to 50 percent of maximum seating capacity starting Monday, Sept. 21.
But, there’s a catch in the form of a new self-certification process any restaurant owner who wishes to expand their establishment’s seating capacity must first complete.
As part of the self-certification, they must commit to enforcing social distancing, masking and other COVID-19 mitigation measures in order to protect both workers and patrons.
Along with that, Wolf announced that there will be a ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in restaurants starting Sept. 21, to help further control the spread of the disease.
“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. At the same time, we must also support the retail food services industry that has struggled throughout this pandemic,” he said in a news release. “The self-certification ensures that restaurants can expand indoor operations and commit to all appropriate orders so that employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected.”
As part of the self-certification process, owners will have to verify that they are complying with all public health guidelines and state orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as agree to a statement confirming that they understand their certification makes them subject to possible penalties for unsworn falsification to authorities.
The self-certifications submitted by restaurants will be used as part of ongoing enforcement efforts conducted by the Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and will be shared with the departments of State, Labor & Industry and Health, and other enforcement agencies, Tuesday’s news release indicated.
The state is hoping the self-certification process will also benefit consumers concerned about their health and safety as well as that of others during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Boosting consumer confidence is critical for restaurants, as according to the most recent Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, only 40 percent of Americans are comfortable dining in local restaurants,” the news release noted.
Customers will therefore have the ability to search an Open & Certified Pennsylvania online database of self-certified restaurants across the state in order to verify which eateries in their area are self-certified.
Wolf said Pennsylvania’s self-certification process is modeled after a similar mitigation effort in Connecticut, while the alcohol sales cutoff is based on an Ohio initiative implemented to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in that state.
“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.”
Restaurants that wish to increase to 50 percent indoor capacity on Sept. 21 must complete the online self-certification process by Oct. 5.
Restaurant owners with additional questions about the self-certification program can request more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The changes announced Tuesday come as many restaurateurs are struggling financially, in part due to a requirement Wolf instituted in mid-July, as COVID-19 cases spiked across the state. Following a June reopening which permitted the use of 50 percent of seating capacity inside restaurants, state officials backtracked and decreased the limit to 25 percent. As a result, many owners quickly added or expanded outdoor seating areas.
However, the imminent end of the summer dining season means many customers will no doubt want to begin to dine inside, as cooler fall temperatures arrive later this month.