As Bethlehem’s typically busy holiday season approaches, restaurants expect to be open and ready to serve customers.
However, because pandemic restrictions have altered daily operations for local establishments, changes are necessary to accommodate increased patrons as the weather gets colder and rapidly changing local and state guidelines.
“(The holidays are) probably the busiest time of the year,” said Michaela Brunnabend, an employee at Urbano on the North Side. “Summer is pretty steady … but with Christmas, Monday through Sunday, it is usually really, really busy,”
Currently, restaurants are only allowed to open at 50 percent indoor capacity, alcohol sales must stop after 11 p.m. and all on-premise alcohol purchases must be accompanied by a food item.
Urbano has opened up a third dining room inside to allow for social distancing and has also received additional outdoor tables and heaters from the City of Bethlehem to provide for more outdoor seating, Brunnabend said.
Tapas on Main has also added heaters and tables to its outside dining areas in order to seat more customers outside than they could previously.
“Hopefully (the new heaters and tables) will still bring people in,” said Meredith Grasso, an employee at Tapas on Main. “We have indoor dining, but obviously with the pandemic, people are nervous about eating indoors.”
Expectations for a busy season this year may be somewhat different due to the pandemic, but with the necessary changes in place, restaurants are remaining hopeful the seasonal change will be good for business.
“Business usually picks up during the Christmas season because it’s the ‘Christmas City’ and people come to visit, and business is good,” Grasso said. “Hopefully that’s the same this year, even with the pandemic, as long as people can be safe.”
Both Tapas on Main and Urbano will also be making changes to their menus to feature holiday themed drinks. Urbano will change its food menu at a later point this winter for Bethlehem Restaurant week, Brunnabend said.
Even though the holiday season will bring festivity and increased business to Bethlehem restaurants, customer safety will remain the priority.
“We’re going to operate the way we normally do … We’re going to fit the most amount of people in the restaurant safely, while staying in compliance with local and state regulations,” said Barret Spachina, manager at Bethlehem Brew Works.
Pennsylvania continues to break records for positive tests nearly every day, making it increasingly difficult to keep business open. Philadelphia recently reverted to much stricter regulations, banning indoor dining for the rest of 2020 and limiting gathering sizes. New travel restrictions also mandate a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before entering the state or a 14 day quarantine upon arrival.
Spachina noted that with so much uncertainty surrounding the spread of the virus, it is hard for restaurants to plan for the future.