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River Wards restaurants experience first week of outdoor seating, with mixed results

For many restaurants in the River Wards, the first week of outdoor seating provided an opportunity to rehire at least some employees and get back to some semblance of normal business operations.

Earlier this month, the city of Philadelphia announced its plan to allow restaurants to offer outdoor seating, which officially went into effect on June 12. For many restaurants in the River Wards, the first week of outdoor seating provided an opportunity to rehire at least some employees and get back to some semblance of normal business operations.

“It’s been great for us,” said Ken Correll, owner of Memphis Taproom in Kensington. “[Customers] were respectful and they kept distance from others.”

Correll said that the first week of outdoor seating hasn’t returned everything completely back to normal. He said his restaurant did about half of what it typically does in sales for a normal, non-pandemic week. But that’s still a steep improvement from the previous few months. He’s been able to hire back his entire front-of-house staff and many of his back-of-house staff.

“We’re still trying to get in touch with some of our employees,” he said, noting that he wanted to give his furloughed staff the opportunity to get their jobs back before he went on to hire new people.

Other restaurants, like Jerry’s Bar in Northern Liberties, had a week that was not only busy, but was at times more busy than a typical, non-pandemic week in June.

“We were very busy,” said Jerry’s Bar manager Jessica Sadang, who added that her Wednesday and Thursday night saw more sales than in previous pre-pandemic Wednesdays and Thursdays. “We’ve been pretty packed with reservations nonstop.”

Sadang said Jerry’s is doing reservation-only seating, so there’s time to sanitize tables between guests’ meals.

“Everyone’s being safe and respecting changes,” she said.

In fact, Jerry’s has taken COVID precautions a bit further. The bar installed glass partitions between tables outdoors. It’s also working on building a park across the street to add even more outdoor seating, and they’ll be hiring more servers once it’s complete to accommodate the extra space.

L.C. Carrasquillo, a shift manager at Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen in Fishtown, said workers at her restaurant feel “lucky” to have the outdoor seating they do, even though they’re making less than half of what they typically make in the summer months, due to the lack of indoor seating.

“Summer is definitely our money-making months,” she said. “We’re definitely taking a sales hit.”

Cedar Point initially was seating customers via reservations only, but changed that pretty quickly to walk-ins only.

“Having our staff doing reservations for only five deck tables was adding a stress on them they didn’t need, so we nixed it,” said Carrasquillo. She said all of the restaurant’s staff has come back to work.

“They’re all really excited to be here,” she said. “We’ve been really lucky.”

For some restaurants in the area, however, things have still been less than ideal.

“If we had to rely on it, I’d go bankrupt,” said Tom Woltjen, owner of Mercer Cafe in Port Richmond. “It’s been very abysmal.”

However, Mercer Cafe has been doing things a bit differently. The cafe is basically offering only takeout, but has provided tables outside the restaurant for people to sit. There isn’t any waitress service, and no silverware is provided. Instead, people eat with plastic utensils provided in the takeout meal. But after Woltjen closes the cafe down on the week of July 4 for his annual vacation (“I haven’t had a day off since March 15,” he said, noting that he plans to take his grandkids fishing), he plans to come back with full service for his outdoor seating.

“We just had a meeting,” he said. “July 4 is our slowest week of the year. We’re gonna do some COVID cleaning, and we’ll have our normal servers.”

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