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Philly Special Restaurant Reopening Rules

PA/NJ Governor Coronavirus Rules for Restaurants - Pennsylvania and New Jersey COVID-19 Restaurant Reopening Restrictions

Philadelphia restaurants are now able to allow 50% capacity for indoor dining. However, they must meet new ventilation standards set forth by the Philadelphia Department of Health, and many restaurant owners are confused about the application process. According to official guidelines released by the Philadelphia Department of Health, if a restaurant uses an HVAC system or standalone ventilation unit, the following standards are required for reopening to 50% capacity:

  • HVAC system is fully operational and ventilates the entire indoor dining area
  • At least 20% outside is air circulated by the HVAC system
  • Filtration is MERV 11 or higher
  • At least 15 air exchanges per hour are measured indoors
  • The exhaust vent has a minimum six-foot clearance from tables, chairs, or other items
  • If a restaurant uses window fans instead of an HVAC system, at least 15 air exchanges per hour must be measured indoors

Restaurant Reopening Rules

Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) is a system used to evaluate the efficiency of an air filter based on how effective it is at catching particles of varying sizes. Basically, the higher the MERV rating, the higher the air filtration capabilities of a particular filter. Restaurants will be required to provide documentation, either from their HVAC maintenance company or the establishment proprietor, certifying that these standards are met. Yet, most restaurant owners are not proficient in HVAC systems.

“I took a look at it today, and I’m not an HVAC person. So we’re definitely going to have to bring somebody in,” said Erin Wallace, who owns the Devil’s Den in South Philadelphia.

“I’m still struggling how to figure 50% capacity, but still keeping six feet, how it’s going to work out and what is the cost redoing the AC system,” said Moon Krapugthong, chef and owner of Chabaa Thai Bistro in Manayunk.

Bringing in an HVAC technician will clearly lead to a hefty cost just to see whether changes must be made. Currently, the city estimates that meeting the health department’s standards can cost a restaurant anywhere from $300 to $5000. And while a restaurant owner almost certainly will have to bring in an HVAC technician to evaluate their current system, they are still left wondering how long the city will continue to allow 50% indoor dining. The guidelines state, “As Covid-19 case rates change, these capacity limits may be revised.” Therefore, a restaurant owner may have to choose to forgo this expense and be left with the option of reopening at 25% indoor capacity. Interestingly, restaurants in Philadelphia operated in the fall at 50% occupancy without ventilation standards, and there was no documented impact on case counts or outbreaks.

COVID-19 Restrictions

These restrictions are leaving many restaurant owners asking: the virus does not operate differently in Philadelphia than it does elsewhere in Pennsylvania, so why are our rules so drastically different than in the rest of the Commonwealth’s?

It is important to note that other Pennsylvania rules remain in place. You cannot order an alcoholic beverage without purchasing a meal for on-premises consumption. Additionally, seating and alcohol service past 11:00 p.m. remain prohibited.

For information regarding national and state liquor law matters or general manufacturing and distribution advice, please contact our Liquor Law, Licensing, Manufacturing, and Distribution Practice Group: Liquor Law Department Chair Theodore J. Zeller III, Esquire (; David C. Berger, Esquire ( for Pennsylvania and New Jersey retail and manufacturing licensing; or contact our offices at 610-391-1800.

The information contained in this post may not reflect the most current developments, as the subject matter is extremely fluid and constantly changing. Please continue to monitor this site for ongoing developments. Readers are also cautioned against taking any action based on information contained herein without first seeking advice from professional legal counselFor more topics related to COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus Thought Leadership Connection.