‘Too much headache’: Restaurants hesitant to expand indoor dining

Even though Philadelphia allowed indoor dining at 50 percent on Oct. 2, some restaurant owners hesitate to allow indoor seating due to safety concerns.

Wa Quach, owner of Yummy Pho at Broad Street near Norris, wears a plastic face shield inside the restaurant on Sept. 28. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Wa Quach takes orders of pho from customers from behind a wall of plexiglass, wearing a plastic face shield and gloves. 

“We have to be very strict,” said Quach, owner of Yummy Pho on Broad Street near Norris. “We have to adapt.”

With changes in restaurant policy like reduced dining capacity and increased takeout orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, some restaurants near Temple University’s Main Campus are taking steps to increase the numbers of customers indoors, while others don’t expect their business to return to normal anytime soon. 

On Oct. 2, restaurants in Philadelphia were allowed to resume indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, The Temple News reported. 

Quach decided to keep indoor dining closed until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, he said. 

“It’s up to the government,” Quach said. “I want it to be soon, as soon as possible, but who knows?”

Yummy Pho, located at Broad Street near Norris, is closed for indoor dining, but continues to accept pick-up orders and use delivery service apps. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Quach limited staff to three chefs in the kitchen at once, since it’s a small space. Chefs have to work in close proximity to one another, but it’s not a big concern because it is a family business, Quach said. 

At the end of every day, the staff sanitizes the entire restaurant. Starting from the kitchen, they spray chairs, tables and the picnic table out front. 

Yummy Pho allows customers to pick up their food in person, but also relies on delivery services like Postmates, DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats to avoid contact between staff and customers, Quach said.

“Some of them, they want to come in and dine, but I say that it is not safe because we have a lot of people coming in and out,” he added. “Stay safe, eat at home or go outside.” 

Champ’s Diner, a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch at 15th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue,  closed down in the first week of March and then reopened for takeout and delivery at the beginning of summer, owner Jimmy Yang said. 

A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on the counter of Yummy Pho, located at Broad Street near Norris, on Sept. 28. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

They do not have indoor dining available since the risk of COVID-19 transmission is too high and 50 percent capacity only allows them to seat 10 guests, Yang said. Champ’s will likely keep its indoor seating closed until 2021, he added.

“If any customers unknowingly get [COVID-19] and if an employee gets [COVID-19], then we have to shut down for at least two weeks, have everybody tested,” Yang said. “It’s too much headache.” 

Even if they could open 100 percent of their seating, Yang wouldn’t want to unless there was a vaccine, he said. 

Champ’s Diner has customers order and pick up their food from outside the restaurant and have installed plexiglass on the door, Yang said. Indoors, they have only five employees who wear masks and gloves while they work and sanitize the restaurant regularly. 

“I don’t think a lot of people would like to sit inside,” Yang said. “I think even the customers are afraid to come inside.”

Owl Breakfast and Lunch, located on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th, installed a plexiglass screen to separate the cashier from customers. | TYRA BROWN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Owl Breakfast and Lunch, located on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th, allowed indoor dining at 25 percent capacity on Sept. 8.

The breakfast spot closed indoor dining at the beginning of March and switched to takeout with delivery services like Grubhub, said Max Lewis, a server at Owl Breakfast and Lunch and a sophomore biology major. 

Owl Breakfast and Lunch also installed plexiglass at the entrance to separate the cashier from customers, and they plan to install plexiglass near the bar. 

Other requirements, like employees wearing masks and gloves when they serve tables, are in place to ensure public safety, Lewis said. 

Customers eating indoors are seated at every other booth. Floor decals are placed six feet apart to control the amount of traffic and enforce social distancing, he added.    

For now, only two servers work at a time on weekdays, while three work on the weekends, Lewis said. 

“It is weird, just a lot different,” Lewis added.

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