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Restaurants turn focus to outdoor dining as several proposals could possibly bring help

One week after state guidelines lowered indoor capacity to 25%, restaurant owners have turned their focus to outdoor dining.

It was only over a week ago that the state announced updated guidelines for restaurants that included a reduction of indoor dining from 50% to 25% capacity.

Now, as many businesses shift focus to outdoor service, many owners are keeping a close eye on proposals that could bring help to their doors. 

"It (the 25% indoor capacity) certainly has reduced our numbers quite a bit. But, the outdoor dining on the weekends really helps," said Robert Godfrey, an owner of The Handsome Cab in York.

Read the full state restrictions here.

Restaurants have taken over N. George Street in the city on weekends in order to expand outdoor dining and put more customers in their seats. Godfrey said the event has added 14 tables for his restaurant alone. 

Learn about the outdoor street dining weekends in York here.

"We have a lot more space out here (in the street). We can space out It's very comfortable for guests because they're so far apart and they're outdoors in the open air," he said. 

Just a short walk down the street from The Handsome Cab, workers were also busy setting up tables at The Left Bank for the expected street service in York on Saturday.

Co-owner Sean Arnold said with the outdoor event, "we've been able to do 75% or even, almost a normal Friday, Saturday over the past two weeks."

However, owners recognize the event puts their profits in the hands of mother nature. Therefore, restaurants like The Left Bank are looking into tents in the future and have already invested in umbrellas.

Arnold said most people who come to eat at the restaurant prefer to eat outside, but others still prefer indoor seating. However, restaurant owners stress to all customers to make a reservation in order to guarantee a seat especially as social distancing guidelines remain in effect.

"It's going to be a long marathon race," said Arnold, who said at his restaurant they are planning as if the COVID-19 crisis will last anywhere from 12-18 months.

When asked how he believes lawmakers can better assist restaurants, Arnold said in part "some people can get money now, but I think we're really going to need money later."

He said restaurants will need assistance to reopen their doors to 100% occupancy when the time comes. He also pushed for support for the Restaurant Act, which calls on the U.S. Congress to establish a $120 billion dollar Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

'When they (restaurants) come and can open back up fully, full capacity inside, that's when. That's when restaurants are going to need big help.

"We need all the help we can get," said Godfrey, who later added "when you're only doing 25% of your business it's hard to stay open. If we wouldn't have this dining in the street, we would have to close."

As for the weekend street event, Godrey also reminded everyone to make a reservation. 

"Please come out and support your local restaurants and your local downtown. Your retailers. Shop small," he said.

York County is currently working to determine how it will distribute its $40.5 million in CARES act funding. 

RELATED: Restaurants, bars, nightclubs navigate new restrictions as York County leaders say help is on the way

Credit: York County

Read about another proposal by State Senators to assist restaurants and taverns in this statement released by their offices:

"Today, State Senators Jim Brewster and Pam Iovino announced a comprehensive proposal to provide emergency relief to Pennsylvania’s restaurants and taverns, which have seen significant financial loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown. The seven-point plan includes a $100 million grant program to retail liquor licensees using federal CARES Act funds, as well as a suite of policy changes to financially benefit these struggling businesses.

“Restaurants and taverns are not only favorite neighborhood destinations and community staples, they are the job creators and the cornerstone of vibrant main streets across Pennsylvania, representing the third-largest sector of the state’s economy – and they are in dire need of assistance,” said Senator Iovino (D – Allegheny & Washington). “As these small business owners struggle to determine if they can hang on, they need to know that there are lifelines available to them. This plan would direct financial relief to this specific retail sector and will help position our Commonwealth for a full and lasting economic recovery.” 

“Restaurants, bars and the hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and we have to provide relief,” said Senator Brewster (D – Allegheny & Westmoreland). “Too many bars and restaurants are imperiled, cannot survive under strict mitigation, or have closed their doors putting men and women out of work. We have an obligation and responsibility to move aggressively and provide help now.  The assistance package we are offering today is critical for bars and restaurants and their employees.”

Brewster proposed a six-point economic stimulus package in March that included bridge grants for small businesses, including bars and restaurants. He also authored a business reopening plan in April to re-open the economy while addressing the health threat.

The full proposal to provide relief to Pennsylvania’s bars and restaurants includes the following components:

  1. Provide targeted assistance under the Senate Democrats’ small business assistance program to restaurants and taverns. Carve out $100 million from the remaining CARES Act proceeds to capitalize a program to provide grants to these retail liquor licensees for revenue and capital losses experienced during shutdown periods.
  2. Increase the wholesale licensee discount for wine and spirit purchases from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) from 10% to 15% for at least nine months, to June 30, 2021 with a gradual phased reduction back to 10% after June 30, 2022. The total savings to the retail liquor licensee community will exceed $30 million
  3. Waive all license renewal and permit fees that are paid by restaurants and taverns for one year from the date of implementation, representing over $35 million annually.
  4. Eliminate late fees/penalties for delayed sales tax payments and allow restaurants to pay off delinquent accounts by June 30, 2021.
  5. Allow licensees to expand their licensed premises outdoors to non-contiguous areas within a certain distance of the licensee.
  6. Eliminate the $500 off-premises catering permit and current cap on hours/events for an off-premises catering permit during the declared state of emergency.
  7. Clarify ambiguous language in business interruption insurance policies to ensure claims filed during the COVID-19 pandemic are quickly and efficiently paid to businesses (Senate Bill 1127).

Under this proposal, liquor licensees that are cited for violating public health orders or the liquor code would be subject to forfeiture of any grants received or any fees waived by the PLCB.

Senators Iovino and Brewster will work closely with Senate leadership to see that relief to Pennsylvania bars and restaurants remains a legislative priority. And they encourage all Pennsylvanians to support their local restaurants and taverns to the greatest extent possible by ordering takeout or delivery; carryoutpa.com provides a listing of local businesses across the state."