As restaurants in the Lehigh Valley prepare to offer dine-in service outdoors as the region moves to the yellow phase of the COVID-19 reopening plan, some cities are helping out by creating new spaces for diners.
Previously, restaurants could only offer takeout, although some with outdoor seating, such as the Shelby in the Hamilton Crossings, and Ringers Roost in Allentown, were allowing customers to eat their takeout on site.
Now, all restaurants able to offer outdoor dining will be allowed to have table service, with tables spaced six-feet apart. Staff should also wear face masks, offer disposable single-use menus and institute other protocols meant to stem the spread of the virus.
It’s a bit more challenging in downtown areas where restaurants may have limited capacity to place tables far enough apart, or have enough room to justify offering the outdoor dining at all.
The Lehigh Valley’s major cities, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton are helping restaurants’ increase outdoor seating capacity by shutting down streets during dinner hours and adding wooden parklets to parking spaces in front of the eateries.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the requirement to socially distance have had a huge negative effect on a number of business units including bars and restaurants,” said Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell in a press release. “We want to take positive steps to allow these establishments to rebuild their businesses and it is our intent to try to make it as easy as possible.”
He noted that all existing restaurants, bars, and cafes with a valid certificate of occupancy from the city may apply for a Temporary Outdoor Seating Area permit, and if granted will be allowed to add outdoor seating.
Allentown is among the cities closing streets to accommodate the space the restaurants will need.
The city will close some street blocks on Fridays from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. and Saturdays from noon until 10 p.m.
Hamilton Street will be closed from Church Street to Seventh Street, from Seventh Street to 8th Street and from 8th Street to 9th Street. South Lumber Street will be closed from Maple Street to Hamilton and S. Hall Street will be closed from Maple Street to Hamilton Street.
Bethlehem will be closing some of its streets from 4 p.m. Thursdays until Sundays at 7 p.m.
It is closing Walnut Street from Main to mid-block east; Adams Street from Second to Third and Fourth to mid-block south; New Street from Fourth to mid-block south and First Street from Founders Way to East.
Parklets will be installed on Main Street between Walnut and Market; Broad Street from New Street to mid-block; Fourth street from Vine to mid-block east, New Street to mid-block west and Vine Street in the angled parking south of Fourth Street.
Easton is also planning street closures, but has not officially designated any areas until it gets more feedback from which businesses will be requesting the temporary outdoor seating. Areas are being considered in the Central Business District, West Ward, South Side and College Hill areas.
Not all restaurants will be having outdoor table service. In Allentown, for example, three businesses in the Downtown Allentown Market, which opened in September will be offering takeout, but not table service. Its anchor, Chef Robert Irvine’s Fresh Kitchen will not be reopening because of an alcohol licensing issue.
In Bethlehem, Jumbar’s said that it is putting four tables outside for its customers to use, but it will continue to operate as takeout only.l