As Philadelphia restaurants begin indoor dining, Wolf has plans to expand capacity

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UPDATED: 1:55 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Indoor dining is now allowed in Philadelphia for the first time in about six months. And Gov. Tom Wolf has announced further changes for restaurants coming later this month.

Claire has been a cashier at the iconic Melrose Diner in South Philly for 15 years. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and businesses started to close their doors in March, she was off the job — until Tuesday.

"Today is the first day for indoor (dining), and I’m here. I’m back!" she said.

But things are different now. With only 25% capacity allowed, every other booth is taped off. Indoor servers must wear masks and face shields at the same time. And with the weather still nice, most of the first customers of the day decided to eat outside under a white tent anyway.

Karen and Larry Wittig were the first customers to eat at the Melrose indoors Tuesday morning — the first since March. Karen said they were in the city on Tuesday morning, and they happened to hear on KYW Newsradio that the Melrose was open, so they stopped in for breakfast.

“We thought, 'Well, we’re gonna stop by.' But we didn’t know we would be the first ones here today," she said.

She says the place means a lot to them. She grew up in South Philly, so she says there was no better place to be.

Larry and Karen Wittig are the first indoor dining customers at the Melrose. They were in the city, happened to be listening to @KYWNewsradio, and stopped here for breakfast because the place means a lot to them. Karen grew up in South Philly and would go all the time. pic.twitter.com/a01qFpfpvU

— Tim Jimenez (@TimJRadio) September 8, 2020

Not all restaurants are ready to start indoor dining yet. Some are taking a few extra days.

“I think people are nervous still about this, so we want to take baby steps,” Nicole Marquis, owner of HipCityVeg said to NBC 10. 

City officials announced last month when indoor dining would resume. It had been pushed back a few times during the pandemic as infection rates fluctuated. 

Now the city is allowing indoor dining again because of the progress in keeping COVID-19 infection rates low. The hope is for those numbers to continue to trend in the right direction so that, when it gets too cold for people to eat outside, restaurants will be allowed to increase the number of people they can have inside.

“It’s crucial that we have indoor dining for when the winter comes,” Marquis said.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday morning that restaurants will be able to increase their dining room capacity to 50% starting on Sept. 21. They must first "self-certify" through an online process that they are following state health department guidelines, by Oct. 5. And restaurant owners must acknowledge that they could face criminal charges if they’re not completely honest.

UPDATE: @GovernorTomWolf says restaurants can increase indoor dining to 50% capacity starting Sept. 21 if they go through an online self-certification program to confirm they are following guidelines. @KYWNewsradio

— Jim Melwert (@JMelwert) September 8, 2020

When certified, restaurants will be sent window clings and other signs for customers and employees, and they’ll still be subject to enforcement efforts.

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KYW Newsradio's Jim Melwert contributed to this report.