As week 11 of the stay-at-home order is nearing an end, the Philadelphia restaurant scene is still reinventing itself. This is due, in large part, to Pennsylvania’s phased reopening bringing in more changes in real-time.
After House Bill 327 was signed into order by Governor Tom Wolf on May 21 — just in time for Memorial Day Weekend — cocktails-to-go became street legal, opening up a whole new avenue of service for restaurants and bars.
This sparked a mad dash for restaurants like Good Dog Bar & Grill, which had just reopened its doors a day prior, to capitalize on being both a bar & a grill. Many other Philly restaurants quickly jumped to make boozy concoctions for the pickup customers, including some household names in Triangle Tavern, Vedge, Charlie was a sinner, Wine Dive and more.
As the weeks progress into June and July, the small victories for restaurants are becoming more plentiful. Just last night, Governor Wolf announced that counties in the yellow phase may be allowed outdoor, dine-in seating starting June 5. While there are a whole host of restrictions on how this can be done and there are many hoops that still need to be jumped through, it’s yet another step to alleviate the financial burdens restaurants have been facing.
Thankfully, Philadelphia County and all of the counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania are set to move to the yellow phase on June 5, presuming the progress being made right now to contain COVID-19 continues. Should Philadelphia and its surrounding areas move to yellow next Friday, all of Pennsylvania will be in at least the yellow phase by June 5.
Indoor seating — with heavy restrictions — will be allowed for counties in the green phase, as restaurants will be able to open their doors with limited seating and strict guidelines in place.
For many of Pennsylvania’s northern counties, May 29 and June 5 will mark the transition into the green phase. There will be indoor dining for them very soon. For Philadelphia, the green phase will still be very far away — and that is well understood.
And yet, the switch to the yellow phase will make a giant difference in the livelihood of restaurant owners and their thought processes moving forward in the big metropolitan area of Philadelphia.
Some restaurant owners know they aren’t built for the yellow phase. A Philadelphia Inquirer article written by Jenn Ladd highlighted the sad truth of the dive bars of the city, and how they made their livings off close quarters, social interactions and inside drink specials. Their pricing simply doesn’t compete with other restaurants, but that’s because it never was supposed to.
The dive bars of Philadelphia are going to be closed for a long while longer, and while the owners are happy to know that their employees are getting unemployment checks, they fear their doors will be closed for good.
In terms of other changes during the spring, many restaurants are trying to be as flexible and adaptable as they can. To stay alive, restaurants have to be willing to try whatever can help.
World class restaurants are now doing pick-up and delivery. Wine and small plate corner spots are making sandwiches to-go. Single locations are now taking on many monikers from the same storefront as they desperately try to reach as many types of customers at once.
While all of these changes are making a difference, nothing can compare to the money made from in-person dining. Instead of all the money going to the restaurant and the tip to the waitress or waiter, a 30 percent commission to a third-party food delivery app and a tip to the driver is the new normal.
Without the vital sit-down restaurant experience, many restaurants will see their profits siphoned until their wells are simply dried up. Steps are being made in the right direction, but if at all possible, there are things each and every consumer can do.
Pick up instead of ordering delivery. Order from as many different restaurants as you can afford to. Tip heavily — extremely heavily — and be thankful.
P.S.: Because I am remote in Pittsburgh, I cannot support my favorite places in Philly. Here is a short list of some of my favorite places that are still open in quasi-alphabetical, quasi-categorical order:
- Amma’s South Indian Cuisine
- Baby Blues BBQ // Mike’s BBQ
- (The) Bakeshop on 20th // Essen Bakery
- Bart’s Bagels
- Beck’s Cajun Cafe
- Beiler’s Donuts // Dottie’s Donuts (Dottie’s is vegan!)
- Di Bruno Bros.
- Fiore Fine Foods
- Goldie // any of Michael Solomonov’s!
- Good Dog Bar & Grill
- Han Dynasty
- Liberty Kitchen
- Middle Child
- Pho 75
- Pizzeria Beddia / Pizzeria Vetri
- Puyero Venezuelan Flavor
- Sam’s Morning Glory Diner
- Schlesinger’s Deli
- South Philly Barbacoa & Mole Poblano
- Terakawa Ramen