Philly restaurant owners rush to meet the city's requirements for 50% capacity for Valentine's Day weekend

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As temperatures hover below freezing, there's new controversy over the City of Philadelphia's requirements to expand indoor dining capacity from 25% to 50%.

Restaurants have to meet strict ventilation requirements like an HVAC system ventilating the entire indoor area and at least 15 air exchanges per hour.

Valentine's Day weekend is typically a cash cow for local restaurants, but many are rushing to meet the city's stringent requirements.

Restaurant owner Jon Myerow applied Saturday but had to hire a mechanical engineer, which costs hundreds of dollars.

"Their calculations look simple, but it's easy to come up with inaccurate numbers doing this," said Myerow. "There is so much confusion regarding these guidelines that a lot of people really don't know what to do at this point."

Meeting the city's ventilation requirements is also expensive, restaurant owners say.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health's worksheet for restaurants to calculate Air Changes per Hour.

The city estimates it can cost a restaurant anywhere from $300 to $5,000.

"I'm still struggling how to figure 50% capacity, but still keeping six feet, how it's going to work out and what is the cost redoing the AC system," said Moon Krapugthong, chef and owner of Chabaa Thai Bistro in Manayunk.

SEE ALSO: Philadelphia restaurants that meet new ventilation standards can up indoor dining capacity to 50%
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Philadelphia health officials announced that restaurants that meet new ventilation standards can up their indoor dining capacity to 50% beginning Friday.

A spokesperson for The Philadelphia Department of Public Health says the city has received 41 applications. So far, only approved two of them.

A large proportion of them are missing required information, city officials say.

City Councilmember Allan Domb says the city's requirements are too strict, disproportionally affecting minority-owned restaurants.

"These requirements by the health department exceed the requirements of hospitals. No other business has these requirements, and for them to put these out a few days before this weekend," said Domb.

In response to the criticism, Deputy Communications Director Lauren Cox released this full statement:

"We know the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 have been extremely difficult for all businesses-with restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality sector facing a disproportionate impact. The city sympathizes with these business owners and operators, and we have gone to great lengths to both provide them with additional targeted relief (like the Philadelphia Restaurant and Gym Relief Program that will give out $12 million in grants) and ease restrictions in a responsible way.

At the end of the day, the ventilation standards to allow for increased dining capacity announced Tuesday are a new option for restaurants-one that they have been asking for, and one that's not available in any other major city in the northeast.

No other large city on the east coast is allowing indoor dining at 50% under any circumstances, and some cities like Los Angeles still aren't allowing it at all. New York City is only resuming at 25% capacity for indoor dining starting this weekend; indoor dining in DC is still capped at 25%; Boston recently increased their capacity, but it remains at only 40%; and Baltimore remains at 25% capacity.

Our standards were discussed at length on more than one occasion with members of an advisory group of restaurants, and multiple rounds of feedback were submitted, considered, and in some cases incorporated. The final ventilation standards that were released Tuesday are the result of compromise between the restaurant industry and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health-as has been the case with numerous other changes to the City's COVID restrictions over the course of the past 11 months."
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