Guidance for Businesses in the Restaurant Industry Permitted to Operate During the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency to Ensure the Safety and Health of Employees and the Public

Issued May 27, 2020, updated April 1, 2021


The virus that causes the Coronavirus 2019 Disease (“COVID-19”) is easily transmitted, especially in group settings, and it is essential that the spread of the virus be slowed to safeguard public health and safety.

COVID-19 can be transmitted from infected individuals even if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are mild, such as a cough. It can also be spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. This guidance document addresses the procedures businesses in the restaurant industry must follow to limit the spread of COVID-19 to the extent they are permitted to conduct in-person operations.

Businesses Subject to This Guidance

All businesses in the retail food services industry, including restaurants, wineries, breweries, private clubs, and bars, are permitted to provide take-out and delivery sales of food, as well as dine-in service in both indoor and outdoor seating areas so long as they strictly adhere to the requirements of the guidance, as required by this guidance, including:

  • Alcohol can only be served for on-premises consumption.
  • Take-out sales of alcohol for the purposes of off-site consumption are permitted subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law.

This guidance applies to all restaurants, private event spaces and wedding venues with food service, licensed clubs, and bars, regardless of whether the business operates within a larger facility such as a hotel, casino, convention center, conference center or similar large venue.

Private event spaces and wedding venues which do not offer food service are not subject to this guidance, but must follow all applicable provisions of the commonwealth’s Guidance for Businesses Permitted to Operate During the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency to Ensure the Safety and Health of Employees and the Public.

No business is required to conduct in-person operations, and should not do so if the business is unable to do so in accordance with all applicable guidance.


It is the policy of the Administration to ensure that all businesses subject to this guidance conduct their operations in the manner best designed to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety of their employees and the communities in which the businesses reside or serve. All businesses, even those that are authorized to maintain in-person operations, must minimize opportunities for personal interaction because such interactions provide greater opportunities for the transmission of COVID-19.

Protecting Employees and the Public

All businesses and employees in the restaurant and retail food service industry authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to this guidance must do the following:

  • Follow all applicable provisions of the Guidance for Businesses Permitted to Operate During the COVID19 Disaster Emergency to Ensure the Safety and Health of Employees and the Public, including provisions requiring the establishment of protocols for execution upon discovery that the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Require all customers to wear masks while entering, exiting, or otherwise traveling throughout the restaurant or retail food service business. Face coverings may be removed while seated.
    • Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children under the age of two years per CDC guidance) are not required to wear masks and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition.
  • Provide at least six feet between parties at tables, (i.e., the six feet cannot include the space taken up by the seated guest) or physical barriers between customers where booths are arranged back to back. For indoor settings, partitions may be used between tables, not just with back-to-back benches; however, occupancy rates for these establishments cannot be exceeded as a result of any barriers. If tables or other seating are not movable (including at bars), or barriers not available, seat parties at least six feet apart.
  • Spacing must also allow for physical distancing from areas outside of the facility’s control (i.e. such that pedestrians on a sidewalk can pass with at least six feet of distance to customer).
  • Ensure maximum occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor areas are posted and strictly enforced. Maximum occupancy, to include all customers and employees at the facility, is calculated using the following two methods. The more restrictive number must be used.
    • Method 1. Limit indoor occupancy to 75% of stated fire code maximum occupancy, if the facility has self-certified. If restaurants do not self-certify, they may not exceed 50% of the indoor occupancy limit. Sales of food and alcohol for outdoor or off-premises consumption may continue as otherwise permitted by law.
      • Restaurants are not required to self-certify and will not face any penalty if they do not self-certify, but any restaurant that does not self-certify must ensure that the restaurant remains at 50% indoor capacity. Beginning on April 4, 2021, restaurants may increase indoor capacity to 75% if they have self-certified. The Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement will take enforcement actions based on these occupancy limits. If a restaurant is operating above 50% indoor capacity and has not self-certified, they will be subject to penalties. Information regarding violations will be shared with the Departments of State, Labor & Industry, and Health, and other enforcement agencies. For more information on self-certification visit Open & Certified PA and to apply visit the Certify My Restaurant page. For frequently asked questions, see this FAQ.Businesses that have already self-certified through Open & Certified PA do not need to re-certify to increase occupancy.
      • Ultimately, facilities are responsible to follow the capacity limits set forth by the order and self-certification requirements. As such, any partitions put up at bar or counter seating areas do not chang e the overall occupancy limits of an establishment and in order to be served, customers must be seated. If partitions are not installed between seats in a bar or counter seating area, social distancing requirements must be strictly followed. Barriers may be used indoors in other places beyond use with back-to-back benches or at bars; however, occupancy rates for these establishments may not be exceeded as a result of any installed partitions.
    • Method 2. Arrange the restaurant or retail food service business so that customers sitting at a table are not within six feet of any customers sitting at another table in any direction and calculate the maximum number of customers that can be accommodated.
    • There is no longer an occupancy calculation for outdoor seating for restaurants; however, establishments must arrange seating so as to ensure 6 foot distancing between groups and must enforce this requirement strictly. As there are no maximum occupancy requirements for outdoor dining, partitions in lieu of social distancing requirements are not allowed for outside dining and guests must be seated to be served.
      • Events and gatherings, further defined below, in outdoor settings must follow the event guidelines on safe gathering limits released by the Department of Health and are subject to occupancy limits of 50% of the venue size.
    • In addition to these maximum occupancy limits, additional guidance applies to discrete gatherings and events which may be held within the restaurant, facility, or venue, such as weddings, and catered events. Specifically, restaurants, facilities and venues must limit the total number of individuals gathering at one time (including staff) for any discrete gathering or event within the interior of the facility or venue according to the amended guidelines on safe gathering limits released by the Department of Health on March 15, 2021 (effective April 4, 2021). Any restaurant or food service must follow the amended order for any events held.
      • An event or gathering is defined as a a temporary grouping of individuals for defined purposes, that takes place over a limited timeframe, such as hours or days. For example, events and gatherings include fairs, festivals, concerts, or shows and groupings that occur within larger, more permanent businesses, such as shows or performances within amusement parks, individual showings of movies on a single screen/auditorium within a multiplex, business meetings or conferences, or each party or reception within a multi-room venue.
      • Similarly, groups of people who share a space within a building in the ordinary course of operations, such as in an office building, classroom, production floor or similar regularly occurring operation of a business or organization, are not events or gatherings.
      • A restaurant that is hosting multiple discrete events at the same time, or is hosting an event at the same time as meal service then the total number of persons attending all the discrete events at the restaurant may not exceed 75% of the restaurant’s total maximum occupancy. If the restaurant has not self-certified, it may not exceed 50% of total maximum occupancy.
      • For more on maximum occupancy limits for events, please see the Targeted Mitigation Order Event Amendment FAQ.
  • Don’t use shared tables among multiple parties unless the seats can be arranged to maintain six feet of distance between parties.
  • Train all employees on the importance and expectation of increased frequency of handwashing, the use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and provide clear instructions to avoid touching hands to face.
  • Assign employee(s) to monitor and clean high touch areas frequently while in operation including entrance doors, bathroom surfaces, host stands etc., and continue to regularly clean all other areas of the restaurant or retail food service businesses. Clean and disinfect any shared items with which customers will come in contact such as tabletops, digital menus, check presenters, and digital payment devices after each customer use.
  • Sanitize reusable menus and digital menus after each use.
  • Implement procedures to increase cleaning and sanitizing frequency in the back of house. Avoid all food contact surfaces when using disinfectants.
  • Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signage on walls to ensure that customers remain at least six feet apart in lines or waiting for seating or in line for the restroom. Encourage customers ordering take-out to wait in their vehicles after ordering.
  • If live musicians are performing at a restaurant, facility or venue, they must remain at least six feet from patrons and staff.
  • Provide non-medical masks for employees to wear at all times and make it mandatory to wear masks while at the restaurant or retail food service business. An employee does not need to wear a mask if it impedes their vision, if they have a medical condition, or if it would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task. Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees according to Department of Health policies.
  • Where possible, stagger work stations to avoid employees standing adjacent or next to each other. Where six feet of separation is not possible, consider spacing options that include other mitigation efforts with increased frequency of cleaning and sanitizing surfaces.
  • Establish a limit for the number of employees in shared spaces, including break rooms, and offices to maintain at least a six-foot distance.
  • Ensure employees do not share equipment to the extent possible (e.g., cooking equipment, trays, etc.).
  • Verify that dishwashing machines are operating at the required wash, rinse and sanitize temperatures and with appropriate detergents and sanitizers.
  • Follow all requirements of the Department of Agriculture’s Food Code regulations, even when altering from normal types of food delivery.
  • For entities that hold and possess a valid restaurant or hotel liquor license that lost more than twenty-five per centum (25%) of the person’s average monthly total sales, including alcohol sales, as a result of restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 disaster emergency may sell prepared beverages and mixed drinks for off-premises consumption where meals prepared for pick-up or curbside pick-up are also available. Current law requires that sales of these “cocktails-to-go” must cease at 11 pm.
  • If an employee becomes sick during the workday, the individual must be sent home immediately. They may not continue to work at an in-person business and must quarantine in accordance with the direction of the Department of Health, even if asymptomatic.  An employee who has symptoms of COVID-19 before reporting to work should notify the employee’s supervisor and remain home.

All businesses and employees in the restaurant and retail food service industry authorized to conduct inperson activities pursuant to this guidance are encouraged to do the following:

  • Establish a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person to implement the plan.
  • Prior to each shift, ask that the employees self-measure their temperature and assess symptoms.
  • Utilize reservations for dining on premises to maintain records of all appointments, including contact information for all customers.
  • Use staff-facilitated seating where appropriate. If seating is not staff facilitated and tables cannot be moved to meet the physical distancing requirements outlined above, tables that should not be used must be clearly marked as out of service.
  • Allow no more than 10 people at a table, unless they are a family from the same household.
  • Use single-use disposable menus (e.g., paper) and discard after each customer, or utilize a written posting such as a chalkboard or whiteboard to relay menu information.
  • Close or remove amenities and congregate areas non-essential to the preparation and service of food or beverages such as dance floors, game areas, playgrounds, small games of chance and tavern gaming etc.
  • Use technology solutions where possible to reduce person-to-person interaction, including mobile ordering; text or phone app technology to alert customers when their table is ready to avoid use of “buzzers;” and contactless payment options.
  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at point of sale terminals, cash registers, bars, host stands, and other areas where maintaining physical distance of six feet is difficult.
  • Consider methods to make point of sale terminals safer, including use of no contact applications, placement of a glass or clear plastic barrier between the employee and the customer, and providing a hand sanitizer station for customer and employee use after handling credit/debit cards, PIN terminals, or exchange of cash.
  • Consider installing touchless door and sink systems or providing single-use barriers (e.g., deli tissues, paper towels) for use when touching door and sink handles.
  • Schedule closure periods throughout the day to allow for cleaning and disinfecting, including bathrooms (i.e., after lunch service).
  • Servers should avoid touching items on tables while customers are seated to the extent possible. Dedicated staff should remove all items from the table when customers leave.
  • Use separate doors to enter and exit the establishment when possible.
  • When protective equipment such as face coverings are used, launder daily and wash hands after touching/adjusting face covering while working.

All businesses and employees in the restaurant and retail food service industry authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to this guidance are prohibited from doing the following:

  • Placing condiments on tables for use by multiple parties. Condiments should instead be dispensed by employees upon the request of a customer.
  • Refilling food and beverage containers or implements brought in by customers, unless the container or implement can be refilled without contact with the tap or dispenser, containers are sanitized before use, or the tap or dispenser is sanitized before and after each use.

In addition to the requirements above, all private event spaces and wedding venues with food service authorized to conduct in-person activities pursuant to this guidance must require event hosts to maintain a list of all guests in attendance including phone number and expected location 14 days after the event.

This guidance does not authorize any specific external area near or adjacent to a business in the restaurant industry for outdoor dining. Businesses must obtain any permits or other authorization, as required, to serve food and beverages outside of physical indoor service areas.

Further Guidance and Support

In addition to this guidance restaurants and retail food service businesses may wish to review the CDC’s Considerations for Restaurants and Bars.

Help is available for people who are struggling with their mental or emotional health or feeling anxious or overly stressed. Contact the Crisis Text Line by texting PA to 741-741.

The Administration recognizes the difficulty of procuring materials businesses need to safely operate. If assistance is needed to locate masks and other supplies to carry out these required safety procedures, please visit the Pennsylvania COVID-19 PPE & Supplies Business-2-Business (B2B) Interchange Directory.


Failure to strictly adhere to the requirements of this guidance may result in disciplinary actions up to and including suspension of licensure, including liquor licenses. Restaurants may increase occupancy and continue to operate at 75% indoor capacity if they elect to self-certify. If restaurants are not self-certified, they must operate at no greater than 50% indoor capacity. State enforcement agencies may impose penalties on businesses that have not self-certified and exceed 50% indoor capacity.

All establishments found in noncompliance with Pennsylvania guidance during an investigation or inspection shall receive an initial warning letter. In cases where noncompliance creates an imminent threat detrimental to the pubic health of the citizens of Pennsylvania, establishments shall immediately close.

More than one violation of the legal orders will result in a citation and/or fine. If the violation cannot or will not be immediately corrected, closure will be required for a period of up to 24 hours beginning the day of notice of a second violation.

Violations may also be posted in a public online database so potential visitors are aware of their failure to comply with the mitigation orders.

Law enforcement officers should refer to Enforcement Guidance available online here.

If employees or customers want to report possible health and safety violations in the workplace related to COVID-19:

  1. File a complaint with a local health department or a law enforcement agency.
  2. Submit this webform to the PA Department of Health.
  3. Review OSHA guidance and, if appropriate, file a complaint at

Reminders to Contain the Spread of COVID-19: Social Distancing and Other Requirements

When people need to leave their places of residence in connection with allowable individual activities, allowable essential travel, or by virtue of exemption from this policy, the Department of Health strongly encourages individuals to abide by the following social distancing requirements to:

  • Wear a mask — indoors and outdoors — whenever you leave home or have people who do not live with you in your space.
  • Keep your distance from those you don’t live with and avoid crowds.
  • Maintain a distance of at least six feet from other individuals;
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as frequently as possible, or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available;
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a sleeve or elbow, not hands; Do not shake hands;
  • Regularly clean high-contact surface areas;
  • When sick, stay at home;
  • Follow all applicable guidance on gathering sizes.

Additional Information

For the most up-to-date, reliable information, please continue to refer to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website for Responding to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.