Local Bethlehem residents eating dinner on the patio of Molinari's on Friday, Sept. 5. Molinari's is a popular South Side restaurant for students and their families. (Emily May/B&W photo)

Lehigh Valley restaurants and hotels respond to commencement-related cancellations

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After President John Simon announced that the spring 2020 commencement ceremony in Goodman Stadium would be postponed, many families found themselves having to cancel their travel to Bethlehem. Subsequently, restaurants and hotels surrounding Lehigh had to work with customers who had previously made reservations or put down deposits.

Though restaurants in the Lehigh Valley have either temporarily shut down or transitioned to pick-up and delivery only, they had to work with families with reservations for the week of graduation, May 18. 

Edge, a popular upscale restaurant in Bethlehem, had to modify its approach.

“Our basic cancellation policy is any deposit that is made for a party is refundable as long as the event is canceled within a certain time frame,” said manager Spencer Cobb. “Being that we are in this COVID-19 economy, if they can’t come, then they get their refund back.”

Molinari’s is another Bethlehem restaurant that has had to deal with cancellations. One of their managers, Robert van Thiel, said they were being proactive with contacting reservation holders. 

Molinari’s found out about commencement going virtual only after they began receiving phone calls to cancel, van Thiel said.

“No one does a deposit with us, but what we do, especially during this [commencement]weekend, is put a credit card on file,” van Thiel said. “But if we have a few days notice, there’s no funds exchanged, so I expect everyone to cancel. There’s no strings to make reservations with us.” 

While restaurant reservations tend to be made closer to the particular event date, hotel bookings are usually done further in advance, which means that hotels near colleges have generally had a greater number of cancellations to manage. 

Candlewood Suites, a hotel in Bethlehem, has been allowing free cancellations for the time being due to the pandemic, said employee Alyssa Smith.

“I believe that there are free cancellations only if they are between certain dates, some time from February until May,” Smith said. 

The graduation ceremony in May was not the only event that would have brought families to Bethlehem this spring. The honors commencement was supposed to take place on April 3, so families had to adjust accordingly, said Henry Levy, ‘20, whose father had planned to travel to the United States from Switzerland. 

Levy said his father had booked a room at the Comfort Inn in Bethlehem, but did not buy a plane ticket yet, preferring to do that on a short-term basis as flight prices had been fluctuating due to the pandemic. 

“The hotel reservations don’t require a deposit, [offering]free cancellation 24 hours or more in advance, so he canceled it way ahead of time,” Levy said.

Other families had already bought plane tickets, but were waiting to make hotel and restaurant reservations, said Grace Lee, ‘20. 

“My sister, who lives in LA, and my mom, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, had to buy plane tickets, which aren’t necessarily the cheapest, so when we did learn that graduation might be postponed, she had to cancel it, but it was pretty easy and [she]didn’t even have to call,” Lee said. 

Lee said all they had to do was email the airline and they were able to receive credit for the flight.

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