- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that restaurants can increase their dining capacity to 50% from the current 25% beginning Sept. 21 if they obtain an online certification. Because of higher positive coronavirus rates, Philadelphia is not part of this new guideline.
- Restaurants' certification status, which includes a pledge to follow safety guidelines, will then be included on a searchable "Open & Certified Pennsylvania" online database that customers can check. Certified restaurants will receive material to display, such as window stickers, to signal their participation.
- Pennsylvania’s online certification is modeled after a similar process issued in Connecticut in May. Connecticut’s plan includes a hotline for customers to call if they identify a safety lapse. Notably, Connecticut’s rate of positive coronavirus cases has decreased significantly since mid-May and remains relatively low.
Pennsylvania's online certification program could help restaurants boost sales and diner confidence in indoor dining, as safety has become a top priority for customers. Wolf said in a press release that Pennsylvania's self-certification process ensures that restaurants can follow appropriate orders so "employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected."
Across the country, states have doubled down on enforcement of social distancing and use of personal protection equipment in restaurants as the pandemic stretches on. In Nevada, for example, 27% of the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's 3,255 complaints filed as of late August were against restaurants and bars for "areas of concern related to COVID-19."
States are taking a patchwork approach to safety compliance and enforcement, however, which is why indoor dining capacities remain disparate. Minnesota just started increased COVID-19 compliance inspections across the state, in which violations could result in citations, penalties or even closures. Other cities, including Washington, D.C. and New York City, have done the same. In New York, indoor dining violations have accounted for nearly 50% of liquor license suspensions.
Requiring online certification before increasing dining capacity could help keep restaurants accountable and make municipal COVID-19 policies top of mind. Though seating more diners inside does pose more risk, it may be a calculated one that states need to take, as restaurants need nearly 60% seating capacity on average in order to stay open permanently, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition.