New Restaurant Guidance for Outdoor and Indoor Dining

May 28, 2020
Aaron K. Zeamer

The Governor has revised his Order to allow the restaurant and retail food service industry to operate some dine-in services as part of the phased reopening of Pennsylvania. The new restaurant guidance specifies when and how the food industry can offer indoor and outdoor dining during COVID-19.

Here’s what you should know:

The New Rules

The Governor’s Office released specific restaurant guidance detailing what is permitted and the rules and processes you must implement to conduct dine-in services.  If you are considering offering dine-in services (starting on June 5 for those counties moving to yellow), please read this guidance carefully.

There are a LOT of requirements that must be in place to ensure you are in compliance with the state’s procedures for dine-in services.  Failure to adhere to this guidance can subject your health license and/or liquor license to suspension or fines.

Generally, the new direction from the Governor allows for limited outdoor dining during the Yellow Phase of reopening.

During the Green Phase, indoor dining is now permissible. However, there must be limited occupancy, social distancing, and/or physical barriers as detailed in the attached guidance.

A Rapid Approval Process Through the PLCB

For those with a liquor license interested in expanding or adding outdoor seating, the PLCB is rumored to be working on an expedited approval process to allow licensees to obtain rapid approval for expanded or new outdoor seating areas.

Remember, if you wish to serve and sell alcohol in an area, the PLCB must add that area to your licensed premises.  Typically, you would do this via an application to expand your licensed premises.  The new PLCB process may allow for approval within a matter of days (as opposed to weeks or months) for an expansion of your outdoor seating.

If/when the PLCB releases guidance for this expedited process, the attorneys at Russell Krafft & Gruber will be ready to assist with the process.

In case you missed it, know that you are allowed to sell mixed drinks to-go immediately.

Two Things to Do While You’re Waiting

In the meantime, if you are considering expanding or adding outdoor seating, there are some things you should consider.

1. Contact Your Landlord

You may need to contact your landlord to add some additional area(s) to your lease.  In some cases, landlords also require their approval to operate any kind of outdoor dining.  Review your lease and start that conversation now.

Even with the expedited PLCB procedure, they will require you to verify that your lease permits you to conduct or occupy any new outdoor space.

2. Contact Your Municipality

You should also consider whether you need to contact your local municipality to obtain approval for outdoor seating areas.  Some municipalities, particularly cities and boroughs, require their approval to conduct outdoor seating, particularly if it is on a sidewalk.

Starting that process now or having even that conversation with your local municipality will also help to expedite the process.


I expect many facilities will want to expand their outdoor seating areas to maximize their dine-in services while in the Yellow Phase of reopening. Who wouldn’t want to accommodate what could be high customer demand for outdoor seating?

However, given the social distancing and other limitations in the new restaurant guidance, your normal outdoor seating capacity is going to be greatly reduced.  Finding additional seating areas and creatively implementing them will be critical to ensuring a smooth transition to dine-in services and accommodating the comfort and peace of mind of your guests.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.