How The Philly Service Industry Is Affected By Statewide Restaurant Shutdown

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to impact the Philadelphia area, city government announced that bars and restaurants are ordered to operate on a take-out and delivery-only capacity through at least March 27

“These changes are not made lightly, and we are well aware of the potentially devastating effect they will have on businesses and workers,” mayor Jim Kenney said in a tweet. “We are developing grant and loan programs aimed at business and job preservation.” 

Philadelphia’s restrictions follow a previous order from Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf mandating bars and restaurants in five neighboring counties -- Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester and Allegheny -- to close for regular dine-in service for two weeks (delivery and take-out will not be impacted). In neighboring states, like New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, dining establishments will be limited to take-out and delivery for the foreseeable future.

Last week, as many local museums, theaters, and schools closed temporarily to slow the spread of the virus, bars and restaurants remained open and operational. One employee of a downtown restaurant, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was business as usual. Patrons largely traveled into city limits from neighboring counties where dining restrictions were already set in place. “It really defeated the purpose of those county quarantines and put us all in danger,” the employee said. “No one was doing social distancing at all.” 

Other watering holes, like Garage in Fishtown and Old City bars, had queues at entry or large crowds

Prior to the limit on eat-in service in the city, dining establishments were early to observe empty seats. In many downtown restaurants, which served as popular lunch destinations or hotspots for commuters, the slowdown began as soon as many companies ordered their employees to work from home. Restaurants made efforts to cut down manpower, avoided pre-setting tables, and were considering removing tables to adhere to social distancing guidelines

Now, as bars and restaurants move to take-out and delivery-only, the community is rallying to support local businesses. In addition to ordering pickup or delivery (delivery services like Seamless and GrubHub are offering no-contact food exchange and are suspending commission collections from local restaurants), many in the hospitality industry advocate for the purchase of gift cards. University City District is incentivizing gift card purchase by price-matching all purchases. 

“If you want to support restaurants, a way of doing it that’s immediate and makes so much sense is buy a gift card,” said Kate Lauderdale, the manager of in Rittenhouse Square. “That way they can use your money now and you can go later.” 

Other fundraising methods include a new initiative dubbed Isolation Sessions in which local musicians will perform virtually to raise money for those in the service and music industries.  Many restaurants are encouraged to donate excess food to Fooding Forward, an organization which collects unused food to hunger relief charities. Additionally, the website Queerantine has been set up to donate direct funds to bartenders, drag queens, DJs, and restaurant staff in Philly's gayborhood.

Still, as the widespread impact of the virus is yet unknown, service industry employees continue to wait out an increasingly volatile situation. 

“For me, I have a little bit of savings and my personal best case would be lockdown,” the downtown restaurant employee said. “We are all on shoestring budgets and no one wants to find out what happens economically if the city shuts down.”

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Allie Volpe is a Philadelphia-based contributor for Thrillist.