States roll out reopening plans, despite concerns

By: Nations Restaurant News

As some restaurants opened for dine-in business in Georgia, Tennessee and Alaska this week, a number of other states are poised to begin lifting restrictions on Friday, including Texas, Oklahoma, Utah and parts of Iowa.

Texas officials earlier this week announced that restaurants will be allowed to open for limited-dine-in service on May 1, for example. In Iowa, restrictions will be lifted for most restaurants — except those in 22 counties, where higher rates of COVID-19 cases have been reported.

Parts of Florida, Missouri, Montana and Nebraska are preparing to begin lifting restaurant restrictions on May 4.

In other states, the timeline is not clear. In Minnesota, for example, the stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire on May 4, but state officials at press time had not indicated when restrictions on restaurants might be lifted. Similarly, a stay-at-home order is to expire Friday in Ohio, but Gov. Mike DeWine this week said restaurants and bars will remain closed for dine-in business there without indicating an end date.

Kentucky has also not given a timeline.

“Our governor is being pretty cautious, but no mention of dining rooms opening yet,” Kentucky Restaurant Association president and CEO Stacy Roof said.

And many states are pushing further into May or later to lift restrictions. In Idaho, for example, restaurants must submit a plan for reopening to be allowed to open for dine-in service under Phase 2 of a state plan, scheduled to begin May 16.

In Hawaii, stay-at-home orders have been extended through May 31. Louisiana, Wyoming and Colorado are looking at mid-May to allow restaurant dine-in service.

The governors of California, Washington state, Nevada and Oregon have a Regional Pact to Recovery that includes a coordination of business reopening. Timelines have not been disclosed but restaurants are likely to face similar capacity restrictions and operational mandates.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has indicated restaurants and bars will remain closed for dine in until the end of May.

And in New York state, the hardest hit by coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the restart will be gradual and will vary by region, with upstate opening sooner and restrictions around New York City staying in place longer. Beyond that, no timeline had been disclosed.

Cuomo is reportedly being advised by a committee that includes restaurateur Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, as well as Tren’ness Woods-Black, owner of the restaurant Sylvia’s, and Andrew Rigie, president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Even in states that have allowed dine-in to resume, many restaurant operators remain reluctant to reopen, fearing they will contribute to an increase in coronavirus cases if workers and guests are interacting in a dine-in setting.

Here’s a brief rundown of states that are planning to open this week or in May, along with local guidelines for dine-in service where available:

Alaska: Restaurants were allowed to reopen for limited dine-in service on April 24. Table service is allowed as long as restaurants follow a set of guidelines established by the state including: groups dining indoors are limited to household members only; limit capacity to 25% of occupancy of building; no walk-in seating, reservation only; outdoor dining can have no more than 20 tables, which must be 10 feet apart.

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp reopened the state for business on April 27. Restaurants are limited to no more than 10 patrons per 500 square feet inside, parties are limited to six per table, all employees must wear masks, salad bars and buffets are prohibited and restaurants must use pre-rolled silverware.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Lee lifted statewide restrictions on Monday, but he also acknowledged that counties may keep restrictions in place longer, and many are doing that out of concern that businesses are opening too soon. Those that do open, however, are limited to 50% capacity, and tables must be six feet apart. No parties larger than six per table. Customer screening, including temperature checks, are recommended as best practice. All workers  must wear masks and waiting areas must be marked for social distancing. Bar areas must remain closed and no live music is permitted.

Texas: Starting May 1, restaurants will be allowed to open for dine-in service, but they will be limited to 25% capacity. Valet services will be forbidden, except for vehicles with placards or plates for disabled parking. Food courts and play areas must remain closed.

Iowa: Restaurants can reopen dining rooms on May 1 in 77 counties, but limit seating to half capacity or less, with no self-service/buffets. No groups larger than six, and tables must be six feet apart. Bars must remain closed. In the remaining 22 counties, restaurants are limited to drive-thru, pickup and delivery through May 15.

Utah: Gov. Gary Herbert reportedly on Tuesday scaled the state’s coronavirus risk level to “moderate,” allowing businesses like restaurants to reopen for limited operation on May 1. Guests and workers must practice social distancing, wear masks and workers must have temperature checks each shift.

Oklahoma: Restaurants will be allowed to begin reopening starting May 1 under Phase 1 of the Open Up and Recover Safely plan announced Tuesday. Guidelines include social distancing required between tables and in waiting areas, condiments must be removed from tables and, if requested, sanitized after use. Hand sanitizer must be supplied to guests. Employees and vendors should be screened for symptoms, including temperature. Masks must be worn for all staff/customer interactions and by kitchen workers if they can’t keep a safe distance. Bars closed and banquets prohibited until phase 2.

Missouri: Gov. Mike Parson on Monday announced the first phase of the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan to reopen on May 4. The first phase is scheduled to last until May 31.

During this phase, restaurants are allowed to offer dine-in services, but they must adhere to social distancing and other precautions, including spacing tables six feet apart and prohibiting communal seating areas.

Self-serve options like salad bars and buffets should be regulated, restaurants should use disposable menus and employees should use personal protective equipment, if available. The continued use of drive-thru, pickup and delivery is encouraged.

Nebraska: Starting May 4, restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in service but limited to 50% capacity, with six feet of separation and no more than six per table. Self-service and salad bars prohibited, no bar seating and guests can only consume alcohol on premise with a meal.

Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 30.  The governor on Wednesday reportedly said restaurants will be able to open May 4 at 25% of capacity in certain parts of the state. Hard-hit areas like Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are excluded. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed until later phases of the reopening.

OPENING IN MID-MAY OR LATER

Arkansas: Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that restaurants will be allowed to reopen for dine-in on May 11, but limited to one-third of their capacity. Tables must be spaced at least six feet apart and no parties larger than 10 will be permitted. Workers must wear masks and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever. Bars and bar areas within restaurants must stay closed. Hutchinson also announced a proposed $15 million grant program to allow businesses to apply for funding for personal protective equipment or other expenses.

Alabama: Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a shift from the current stay-at-home order to a “Safer at Home” order starting April 30. Businesses will gradually reopen — but not restaurants, which remain limited to takeout, pickup and delivery through May 15.

Here are some guidelines proposed by a state task force for restaurants when they are allowed to open for dine-in service.

South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order on April 20 to begin reopening select public areas and sectors of private businesses, including access to beaches, and select retail stores like furniture, florists, book and music stores and clothing retailers. On April 24, gyms, hair salons, and barbershops were also reopened.

All businesses set to reopen must do so at no more than 20% capacity or five people per 1,000 square feet. Restaurants were not mentioned in the April 20 executive order and according to the Governor, any businesses not listed “will remain closed until further notice.”

The South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association formed a task force to submit a plan to the State House legislature for how restaurants can safely re-open to the public. McMaster issued another executive order on April 27 extending the state’s state of emergency for another 15 days. It will expire on May 12.

Louisiana: Gov. John Bel Edwards has extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15 and does not currently meet the requirements for a Phase One economy reopening. The new stay at home order will relax some of the previously strict restrictions on private businesses.

Malls will remain closed but stores can open for curbside delivery.Restaurants will be allowed to open their outside areas to the public for dine-in meals, while dining rooms will remain closed. All employees who work in a business that has contact with the public must wear a mask. People are urged to wear masks whenever they are in public.

On May 15, providing the state meets federal requirements for Phase One, Louisiana will lift the stay at home order and allow businesses like salons, churches, and restaurants to reopen with occupancy restrictions limited to 25%. Bel Edwards is scheduled to make the next announcement on Phase One on May 11.

Colorado: Under Safer at Home phase and restaurants will not be permitted to reopen for dine in until state meets certain data points. The Colorado Restaurant Association indicates the governor is “hopeful” that restaurants will be able to reopen at limited capacity around May 15, depending on data about spread of the virus.

Hawaii: Gov. David Ige extended until May 31 the stay-at-home order across the state. No decision has been made on when restaurants can reopen for dine-in service, the governor’s office told NRN.

“I know this has been difficult for everyone. Businesses need to reopen. People want to end this self-isolation and we want to return to normal,” Ige said when announcing the extension on April 25. “But this virus is potentially deadly, especially for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Thanks to our residents, we are flattening the curve, saving lives, and avoiding a resurgence of this virus by not reopening prematurely.”

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.