'I’m so excited, I can’t tell you': Restaurants in Middletown getting ready for outdoor seating
It took a pandemic, but expect to see outdoor seating springing up at restaurants all over Middletown.
Starting today all restaurants in counties in the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions are allowed to have outdoor seating by an order Wolf issued May 27. In tandem with the governor’s order, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board June 3 announced it has temporarily speeded up its own process for restaurants needing approval to extend their license to include outdoor seating areas.
In addition, Middletown Borough Council during its June 4 meeting voted 6-0 to suspend until Oct. 31 enforcing most provisions of the borough’s existing outdoor seating ordinance.
Council approved the ordinance in July 2018, but restaurants in town viewed the new law as so restrictive that no business owners ever applied to the borough for a permit to have outdoor seating on a public sidewalk.
The pandemic has changed that, at least for now. Council’s action suspending nearly all provisions of the ordinance was triggered by the loss of business restaurants in town had been experiencing since mid-March due to the restrictions Wolf had imposed to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Even with further relaxing of the restrictions when Dauphin County enters the green phase, restaurants will still be limited as to how many customers can be seated indoors at any given time.
Restaurants will be limited to either 50 percent of their rated maximum fire capacity, or the restaurant is to use a limit of 12 people per 1,000 square feet, according to the guidance issued by the governor’s office.
With those kinds of limitations, being able to provide outdoor seating is especially valuable for a small restaurant like Kuppy’s Diner.
“We are under 400 square feet in size” for customers inside, co-owner Carol Kupp told the Press & Journal. “That gives us maybe a body and a half as far as how many people would be allowed to come in here. That’s not feasible. It’s not even worth flicking your lights on as far as what revenue that’s going to bring in.”
Outdoor seating on the other hand instantly increased Kuppy’s sit-down dining capacity by up to 20 people.
Kuppy’s has been offering take out and delivery during the pandemic. But this is the first time in its long history that the iconic diner has ever offered outdoor seating, except for during special events, such as the annual Kuppy’s Cruise-In car show.
But as Kupp points out, “we’ve never been in a situation like this in 87 years of business, either.”
Kuppy’s is among several Middletown restaurants that had either started offering outdoor seating as of Friday or were planning to do so very soon.
Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works posted a video on its Facebook page Thursday, showing 32 outdoor seats ready to go at tables set up along the front of the business on South Union Street and also along the West Emaus Street side.
Alfred’s Victorian on North Union Street will begin offering outdoor seating Saturday, said owner Robin Pellegrini, both for full dining and for the restaurant’s ice cream parlor.
Alfred’s has had approval for years from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to have outdoor seating on the property. Now that the borough has loosened its rules, Pellegrini said she’ll probably apply for a permit to provide additional outdoor seating along the public sidewalk space in the front.
“I’m so excited, I can’t tell you,” she said.
Raider Steaks & Deli had outdoor tables set up in front of its restaurant in Pineford on Friday morning.
At Hops and Barleys next to the square at Main and Union, co-owner Steve Wian said the restaurant was also planning to begin offering outdoor seating starting Saturday. The restaurant was planning to announce details in a Facebook post Friday.
Wian had pleaded with council for relief from the restrictions in the borough’s current ordinance, saying restaurants being able to provide outdoor seating “could be the difference between success and failure” given the limitations on how many customers can be inside.
He was pleased with council’s action during the June 4 meeting.
“Job damn well done,” Wian told the Press & Journal in a Facebook message after the vote. “I really want to make sure that council hears the applause!!!”
Hops and Barleys was also the first Middletown restaurant to apply for a permit for outdoor seating on a public sidewalk under the newly relaxed requirements. The borough had posted the new application on its website as of Friday morning. Tattered Flag also applied for its permit later Friday, according to the borough.
The only requirements still in place under council’s action are that businesses provide for at least 3 feet of an unobstructed path available on the public sidewalk. Businesses must also still provide proof of insurance, and an agreement indemnifying the borough.
Instead of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., restaurants can open up outdoor seating at 7 a.m. daily. The 10 p.m. end limit remains in place.
Instead of a detailed plan, restaurants need only provide some basic information as to the number of tables and chairs and a brief description of them.
Once the borough receives the completed application and the insurance information, the restaurant can begin providing outdoor seating immediately, borough manager Ken Klinepeter said at the end of council’s June 4 meeting.
Restaurants such as Kuppy’s and Tattered Flag had already set up their tables and chairs and begun offering outdoor seating Friday morning, on the strength of the go-ahead given by the governor. Kupp said she expects the diner to soon follow through with getting the permit from the borough.