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Restaurants examine ‘fine print’ of Gov. Wolf’s dining rules

Randy Hull, owner of Hull’s Landing in Muncy Creek Township, gets the deck ready in anticipation of offering outdoor seating beginning June 5th, in accordance with the directives put out by Gov. Wolf on Wednesday. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Some restaurant owners and managers said they are working through the logistics of outdoor dine-in eating, while others are evaluating if the move will be economical.

Starting June 5, restaurants operating in yellow-phase counties will be allowed to provide outdoor dine-in services, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday.

“We’re crossing our ‘t’s and dotting our ‘i’s to make sure it is a safe environment for our guests and employees,” said Joanna Morrone, manager of the Old Corner at 328 Court St.

The restaurant has been getting by on takeout orders since May 1.

“I am hoping that providing full service outside to our customers — being able to sell food and beverages, will enable us to be more profitable than the takeout service has been,” she said. “I am happy to hear that we are going to be able to open back up in some capacity and serve our customers outside, we are currently making sure that we will be following all the guidelines.”

The guidelines, however, are numerous when local and state governments have their own rules. The complexity is then multiplied with adherence to Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board guidelines, which maintains the Old Corner’s liquor license.

“The lines are definitely blurred sometimes but we’re really trying to navigate through all of the fine print to make sure we are doing everything to follow the guidelines,” said Morrone. “My fingers are crossed that this is going to be a good thing, and a safe, profitable step.”

For Jesse Darrow, owner of the Sawhorse Cafe at 303 Washington Blvd., providing dine-in services wouldn’t make sense for his business.

His, along with other, smaller restaurants in the city, lacks enough room to make a profit from dine-in services after paying the waiter, he said.

“I think it’s great that we can have outdoor seats but from a business perspective, I don’t see business coming back strong enough to make up the difference in staffing that I would need,” said Darrow. “Honestly, even if we were going green I wouldn’t put the dining room back in service.”

After social distancing measures, his 10 seats would be reduced to five, he said.

Management of Scorz Sports Bar and Grill, at 315 Hepburn St., are also evaluating the proposition.

“We’re still looking at all our options to see what’s viable and what isn’t,” said Tim Robinson, general manager. “It’s been a day to day thing to check the news to see what’s being said.”

To start, the restaurant may have limited hours or a limited menu, but “we definitely want to follow all government guidelines and we will open up as soon as we can,” he said.

In Hughesville, the owner of Hull’s Landing, Randy Hull, said his restaurant’s deck will be available for seating starting June 5, but it’s unclear how it will be staffed.

“It’s been pretty hard to operate, quite honestly, but we’ll do what we can do,” he said. “It’s a difficult scenario, that much we can say.”

The public has strongly supported his restaurant’s takeout business, but it’s unclear how many will take advantage of the dine-in service.

“How am I going to maintain a staff if there’s only half the amount of people where to wait on?,” he said.

Lycoming County is safe and it should be up to the public whether or not they go to their favorite restaurants, he said. However, prices at restaurants throughout the area may have risen since they were last there to keep them afloat.

“It’s a double-edged sword. If you raise food costs to the public, then they don’t have the money and they aren’t going to support you,” said Hull.

“I think at this stage of the game that the public is well educated on the virus and numerous things that if they choose to come out, it’s obviously their decision,” he added.

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