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Increased dining capacity not a big deal for local eateries

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Elijah Alexander, a cook at the Station House writes on of the specials on a white board at the restaurant in Montgomery on Monday.

Gov. Wolf’s directive handed down earlier this month to allow restaurants to increase indoor dining capacity has drawn less than an outpouring of enthusiasm from local establishments.

“There’s no real difference in business yet,” Zack Aulenbach, manager of Cracker Barrel, 260 S. Lycoming Mall Drive, Muncy, said.

He said he expects to see more customers on the weekends, however.

Starting Sept. 21, restaurants throughout the state were given the go-ahead to expand capacity from 25 to 50 percent.

Aulenbach said Cracker Barrel added more staff but made no change in its floor plans.

“We can just seat more people,” he said. “We will see what happens.”

A few other area restaurants took no measures to accommodate more patrons.

“We stayed at 25 percent,” Pat McNamee, owner of the Forest Inn, Trout Run, said. “My kitchen closes at 8:30 p.m. so we have to have everyone out by 9.”

McNamee, who purchased the business in May, said an expanded capacity likely would not make much of a difference for his restaurant.

“I have a really small place,” he explained.

Joyce Knouse, of The Station House, Montgomery, said she is still thinking about allowing more diners in the restaurant.

But given the restaurant’s confined space, it will require some re-arranging of tables and other considerations.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the restaurant has managed, she said, “to hold its own.”

“We take each day as it comes,” she said. “We have probably lost $180,000 in catering since it started. We used to do a lot of catering.”

A Williamsport restaurant was yet another one that took no action to increase capacity.

“I don’t know if the owners are going to do that,” said a spokeswoman there, who asked to remain

anonymous.

She said the pandemic has posed challenges but food take-outs and patio dining have helped sustain the restaurant.

Unfortunately, the onset of chilly fall weather followed by winter will bring an end to outside dining until next year.

Establishments that want to increase capacity must certify to the state that they are complying with all public health guidelines.

Those restaurants will then appear in a searchable state database.

Other restrictions on the hospitality industry remain.

Restaurants must stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m., and bars not offering meal service are to remain shut down.

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