While the suburbs currently operate at 50% capacity, city businesses are limited to 25% unless restaurants meet strict ventilation requirements.
The owners of Ambrosia, an Italian restaurant in Center City, said they poured thousands of dollars into their outdoor dining set up. Then they paid for an HVAC professional to see if they could meet the city's ventilation standards.
"It's been very complicated with the rules, so we're not clear 100%. We decide to stay at 25% and outdoor," said owner Fredi Loka.
Since releasing the application last Tuesday, the city has approved five out of 41 applications as of Monday afternoon. Health department officials said many applications were incomplete, but pledged to review applications within 72 hours, including over the weekends and holidays.
SEE ALSO: Philly restaurants that meet new ventilation standards can now increase indoor dining to 50%
"Most of the restaurants that have submitted applications did not submit complete applications," said James Garrow, the communications director for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. "When incomplete applications are received, the Health Department proactively reaches out to the restaurant to inform them to update the missing information."
However, advocates from the Pennsylvania Lodging and Restaurant Association said the ventilation requirements are too strict.
"There's some other restaurants that have state-of-the-art HVAC systems and their experts are telling them that it's impossible for them to get 15 air exchanges per hour," said Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy for the Pennsylvania and Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The city said they worked with an advisory group of restaurants and members of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association to come up with ventilation standards.
Meeting the ventilation requirements can be pricey. The city estimates it can cost a restaurant anywhere from $300 to $5,000.
"With a 100-year-old building that structurally may not be able to handle cutting through a couple of courses of brick to do this, it's going to be a great financial impediment. We're really not sure what to do," said Ken Correll, managing partner of Memphis Taproom.
Read the full statement released by the Philadelphia Health Department on enhanced ventilation standards for indoor dining:
"The standards were intentionally developed in a way that would allow more restaurants to meet them-with or without a professional HVAC system. The standards allow for window fans to be used. And, this can all be done through self-certification; the City is not requiring businesses to hire a specialist to complete the application. A certified industrial hygienist, along with members of the Health Department and representatives from the businesses community, helped develop and test these standards. The application requires business owners to do five multiplication problems and one division problem based on the size of the dining room and the size and number of vents. The City has also published an Excel spreadsheet with the formulas already pre-filled so restauranteurs only have to fill in the size of the dining room and the size and number of vents to complete the calculations."