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Seated areas for dining in food courts, markets, and airports

The following is intended as a plain-language summary of rules during the COVID-19 emergency and does not replace the need to follow all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Vaccine mandate for indoor establishments that sell food and/or drink for consumption on site

To counter rising COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations in our area, on January 3, 2022, a vaccine mandate will go into effect for indoor establishments serving food or drink. Any establishment in Philadelphia that sells food or drink for consumption on site (food establishments) may admit only those people who have completed their vaccine series against COVID-19.

Any seating area in a food court or market where food or drink can be consumed by patrons must be cordoned off. Patrons must be screened for vaccination to prevent those who are not fully vaccinated or exempt from entering. All customers who are seated at counters, tables or other seating areas associated with an establishment must comply with the vaccine mandate.

Take-out-only restaurants 

For establishments that provide take-out where there is general seating provided for customers of several restaurants/food markets (i.e., food courts), the vaccination requirements do not apply to the take-out-only portions of the establishment where food is purchased, but not consumed. If the food is consumed in a general seating area provided for customers of several restaurants/food markets (i.e., a food court), the larger establishment which houses the food court (e.g., a mall) is responsible for cordoning off that area and screening patrons for vaccination.  The vaccine mandate does not apply to employees who only work in the take-out area but applies to employees who work in the area food is being consumed.

Food establishments in airports

The vaccine mandate will apply to any establishment that provides a restaurant-style indoor seating area that is used for the consumption of food or beverages, enclosed from other areas of the airport on three or more sides. This mandate also applies to bar seating at an airport.  Patrons occupying the seating area and the establishment’s staff must comply with the vaccine mandate.

Two-week transition period for patrons ages 12 and over:

  • For the first two weeks of this mandate, January 3 through January 17, 2022, food establishments may choose to accept proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entry in lieu of proof of vaccination for all individuals 12 years of age and over, regardless of reason for being unvaccinated.

Month-long transition period for children and employees:

  • Children ages 5 years and 3 months to 11 years will be required to have one dose of COVID vaccine by January 3, 2022, and to complete their vaccine series by February 3rd. Those who have gotten only one vaccine by January 3rd will be required to test within 24 hours of entry until they are fully vaccinated.
  • Employees will be required to have one dose of COVID vaccine by January 3, 2022, and to complete their vaccine series by February 3rd. Those who have gotten only one vaccine by January 3rd will be required to test weekly until they are fully vaccinated.

NOTE: If any individual is present who is not fully vaccinated because of exemption or any other reason (i.e., a child under age 5), all individuals in the establishment must follow the masking mandate rules by wearing masks and not eating and/or drinking unless at a table. See below for more detail.

For restaurants and other venues, see Guidance for restaurants and mobile food vendors, catering, weddings, celebrations.

Exemptions to vaccine mandate:

  • Children under age 5 years and 3 months.
  • Individuals with documentation of a medical exemption signed by a licensed medical practitioner who attests to an in-person consultation with the individual.
  • Individuals with religious exemptions. These individuals must attest in writing that they have a sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from being vaccinated.

Exemptions at large venues:

  • Any patron with a vaccine exemption will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entry for the entirety of this mandate to enter an establishment that seats 1,000 or more people. This requirement does not apply to children under age 5.
  • Any employee with a vaccine exemption will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly.

Testing guidance for exempt indoor dining workers and patrons who test positive for COVID-19:

Workers who have tested positive in the past 90 days may present proof of recent infection instead of testing for 90 days afterward.

Any employee who develops symptoms in the 90-day period after a positive test should seek testing. If positive, the individual must isolate. See our map of testing sites. If unable to find a test, the employee should assume that they are positive and isolate.  Read the CDC’s guidance on quarantine and isolation.

For all testing, the employee should not use a rapid antigen/at-home test result unless that test is done on site prior to a shift so the employer can verify the employee’s result. Patrons cannot use rapid antigen at-home tests as proof of their results.  The employer should keep a record of the employees’ positive tests to avoid any discrepancies in their records in the event of an audit by the Health Department.

Proof of vaccination

  • Determine whether you will check vaccination status upon entry to your restaurant/venue or in advance of entry (e., online prior to visit upon reservation), or, if applicable, after invitation responses are received or when a ticket is sold.
  • Ensure that staff and attendees are asked about vaccination in a respectful manner and consistent with applicable privacy laws and standards. Businesses and Institutions must obey all applicable local, state, tribal, and territorial laws, regulations, and rules as they consider whether to confirm COVID-19 vaccination status. Read more about how to check for proof of vaccination (PDF).
  • Asking about vaccination status is not a violation of HIPAA, which ensures a patient’s health information is properly protected. HIPAA applies only to covered entities (healthcare providers, healthcare plans) that conducting certain electronic transactions. Most establishments would not fall into the category of a covered entity as defined under the statute. Read more guidance from the CDC about HIPAA. If you have questions about privacy laws that could potentially be applicable to vaccination verification activities, consult with legal counsel prior to taking such actions.
  • Businesses and institutions should keep a dated contact list of all unmasked patrons for 14 days to help with contact tracing, if needed.


Philadelphia’s mask mandate is still in effect to combat the COVID-19 emergency in Philadelphia.

  • An indoor establishment which sells food and/or drink for consumption on site and requires vaccination for all employees and patrons is exempted from having a mask requirement.
  • Indoor establishments which allow exempted patrons or staff who are not fully vaccinated into the establishment must require everyone on site to wear a mask except only:
    • When actively eating and drinking while seated or at a standing table of no more than 4 people. If not at a table, individuals cannot eat or drink and must wear a mask.

All individuals will need to follow the mask mandate while an individual with an exemption is present.

Unvaccinated patrons/guests including children may briefly (under 15 minutes) enter an establishment to use the restroom or pick up take-out orders and should remain masked at all times while indoors.

  • Create a plan for how you will ensure masking in your establishment.
    • Consider having masks on hand to distribute to customers/patrons.
    • Consider utilizing staff to remind patrons/guests to properly mask while on site. Train staff to remind patrons in a respectful manner. Read more about Health Department tips for asking patrons to mask.


  • Indoor dining locations must post required signs for proof of vaccination.
  • Create a plan to communicate to patrons and staff (including performers, if applicable) in advance to give them time to prepare to enter/frequent/work at your establishment/venue.
  • Communication such as signs and posters on the Health Department website will also help patrons/guests understand how to keep themselves safe while visiting your establishment.
    • Create prominent signage to remind patrons to remain masked unless actively eating or drinking while seated.

If an employee develops COVID-19 infection or has a positive test, businesses and other organizations must take additional precautions to stop the virus from spreading further including contacting PDPH by calling 215-685-5488 or emailing

Review more about how to keep your patrons safe in Prevention strategies for businesses, restaurants, and organizations.

See also

  • Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive updates to your phone.
  • If you have questions, call the Department of Public Health at (215) 685-5488.