As of Sept. 21, Pennsylvania restaurants have been permitted to increase their current indoor dining capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent.
Despite the greater flexibility, The Goose, Jenny’s Kuali, and ZEST bar+grille, three South Bethlehem dining establishments, have not seen much of a difference in their customer turnout.
The Goose and Jenny’s Kuali have said they each have seen a decrease in business since the start of the pandemic, while ZEST said it has maintained a strong customer base.
Anthony Trapani, ZEST’s manager, attributes ZEST’s steady business during the pandemic to its vast outdoor seating offerings and rooftop overlooking Bethlehem.
While outdoor seating is highly coveted, Trapani is hopeful the increase in indoor seating will bring more customers to ZEST as the weather gets colder and people no longer want to sit outside.
“We’re lucky enough to have a lot of outdoor seating,” Trapani said. “The 50 percent indoor restriction will definitely help us as we get into colder weather. It’s definitely progress. Anything that brings people here is better.”
Tony Silvoy, owner of The Goose, said this change in capacity has not affected his restaurant. He believes business has been down since the start of the pandemic due to people’s fear of eating inside and a reduced presence of students on Lehigh’s campus.
“The first five months were severely cut into,” Silvoy said. “June was the first month where people started saying, ‘We can go out.’”
Silvoy said since the return of Lehigh students to campus, sales have gone back up.
“We were just happy to see each other again,” Silvoy said.
Silvoy considers indoor dining the “bread and butter” of eating out. He said although business has increased from the beginning of the pandemic, sales are still down as indoor seating is still considered somewhat taboo and students face barriers to eating in South Bethlehem under the new campus restrictions.
“We haven’t increased our capacity because we just don’t have the customers to increase it to. I don’t think people are ready to eat inside,” Silvoy said, adding that he believes it will take four years before customers will feel fully comfortable with indoor seating.
Jenny Lim, owner of Jenny’s Kuali, subscribes to the same rationale. Although they increased indoor dining capacity from 10 people to 16 people last month, they have seen no difference in customer turnout.
“We did increase (capacity), but it didn’t really matter, only once in a while we would have a group big enough and could add a couple more people in here,” Lim said.
Lim said Lehigh’s tighter restrictions for students has also adversely affected his business.
“A lot of my regulars are also Lehigh students,” Lim said. “(Other customers) also think we are so crowded because of Lehigh students, but that’s not true. We don’t even see any of the kids anymore because they don’t come out as much.”