With new COVID-19 restrictions placed on bars and indoor dining, some restaurants and bar owners throughout Northeast Pennsylvania have gotten creative and expanded outdoor dining.
Breaker Brewing in Wilkes-Barre Twp. already had a popular outdoor dining area and owners Chris Miller and Mark Lehman expanded their outdoor dining and drinking area last week at their other location, Breaker Brewing Outpost in Archbald.
They formerly offered about 16 seats outdoors at their Archbald location but with more seating added in the back and front, about 50 people can now dine and drink outdoors, Miller said.
He said they expanded outdoor seating because not everyone is comfortable with indoor dining yet.
“It just makes more people comfortable,” Miller said. “I don’t think everyone is 100% ready to dine indoors.”
Under new restrictions Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced, alcohol can only be served when it’s in the same transaction as a meal and occupancy for indoor dining is limited to 25%, including staff. Outdoor dining, however, is permitted as long as it’s non-bar seating.
Miller said expanding outdoor seating and sprucing up their beer garden is helping business and it was a cheap investment.
Roy Castillo, owner of popular Mexican restaurant Margarita Azul on Parrish Street in Wilkes-Barre, added an outdoor dining area with seating for about 60 people last year but expanded it this summer to include seating for more than 100 people. He also added lighting and speakers with music.
Castillo decided to close the indoor area of his restaurant. He didn’t open the outdoor dining area until after Luzerne County entered the green phase although outdoor dining was permitted in Pennsylvania as of June 5. He said he wanted to make sure everything was right first.
He is not taking reservations for outdoor dining but his staff is taking extra precautions, such as wearing masks and sanitizing. Tables also are socially distanced and as the hot weather continues, he said frozen mango, strawberry and lime margaritas have been popular sellers.
Expanding outdoor dining also helped his business as restaurants have been one of the hard-hit sectors in the economy.
“The patio is helping me out,” Castillo said. “”We’ve been busy, thank God.”
Connor Scalleat and Natalie Lynn, who own The Canning House, also opened a new outdoor dining area last week outside a building at 900 Rutter Ave. in Forty Fort in an area called the “Sculpture Garden.”
Scalleat said he, Lynn and general manager Jesse Shaffer spent four days working 12 hours each day adding flowers, plants, stones, mulch and tables from Dundee Gardens in Hanover Twp. to transform the Sculpture Garden into an outdoor dining area. Staff from The Canning House bring the food and drinks.
The Sculpture Garden formerly was the site of an ice show and one of the biggest attractions was a giant ice train. Scalleat said that a pig grill on the site doubles as a barbecue area.
He said they recently decided to landscape the area to add outdoor dining amid more restrictions on indoor dining.
“For us, it really could be a necessity,” he said. “There’s a minimum capacity that we have to have every single day in any kind of service business.”
In addition to offering limited indoor dining, outdoor dining and takeout, The Canning House also offers an online store with groceries available for delivery. Last week, they also started delivering smoothie packs to people’s homes.
As a result of all their offerings, they were able to bring back all their staff when Luzerne County entered the green phase and hire more, Scalleat said.
“Our delivery business has been so busy that we have people who just pack food to go and who just take orders to go,” he said. “We’re getting creative.”