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Holiday week brings more restaurant restrictions

More areas set limits on outdoor dining as well as indoor seating.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Los Angeles County has suspended outdoor restaurant dining and Nevada has lowered the limit on indoor seating capacities to 25% in the latest flurry of service restrictions imposed on the industry to slow the spread of coronavirus infections.

Restaurants in Memphis, Tenn., were also alerted to new restrictions over the weekend, with officials of surrounding Shelby County reducing dining-room capacities to 50%.

Operators in New York City, meanwhile, are bracing for a suspension of all indoor dining in the next few weeks. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday in a series of media appearances that another shutdown of interior service is a matter of when, not if. He told one talk-show host that the shutdown will likely come during the first week of December.

A shutdown would need the approval of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Over the weekend, the Democrat said he’s eying new restrictions on dining in Staten Island, some portions of Manhattan and several areas of Queens, the city’s largest borough. He also indicated that new restaurant limitations may be imposed in the highly populated suburb of Nassau County.

On Monday, Cuomo discontinued indoor dining in a small area upstate that includes parts of Syracuse. 

Warnings of a widespread suspension of outdoor dining in California have been sounded within that state, the nation’s largest state restaurant market. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is currently in quarantine because of a potential exposure to the coronavirus, imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on residents last week. His directive technically bans Californians from being out and about after that hour, effectively prohibiting on-site restaurant service.

Outdoor dining had been a last resort for restaurants facing limitations or a ban on indoor table seating. Health officials have determined that congregating even in small groups—what the experts have taken to calling micro-spreader events—greatly increase the chance of the coronavirus being transmitted to fellow diners, indoors or out. Hence the increasing number of jurisdictions that are also suspending exterior seating and service.

Al fresco service has been banned in Oregon and New Mexico and restricted in Philadelphia.

Many areas are also setting new limits on how many customers can be seated at a table in areas where indoor or outdoor seating is still permitted. Nevada, for instance, set a cap of four individuals. When Kentucky discontinued in-restaurant dining as of Friday, restaurants were permitted to continue with outdoor service, provided all patrons were seated and in groups no larger than eight people from no more than two households.

Tennessee’s Shelby County banned any party from being larger than six people. Philadelphia's limit is four people.

For similar reasons, jurisdiction after jurisdiction is imposing service curfews, usually of 10 or 11 p.m. State officials are hoping the mandatory shutdown times will discourage patrons from lingering after last call or a later dinner.

The possibility of another suspension of dine-in service in New York City was real enough to draw a response from the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade group representing restaurants, taverns and nightclubs. “While public health and safety must be paramount, we have not seen contact tracing data indicating that highly regulated indoor dining causes the recent infections, and thus struggling small business owners and their employees should not be the left holding the bag as a default reaction without being justly compensated,” said the group’s executive director, Andrew Rigie.

The National Restaurant Association sent a letter last week to the National Governors Association, urging state chiefs to stop scapegoating restaurants for infection surges that health and scientific authorities have failed to trace back to on-site dining. “Tens of thousands of additional restaurant bankruptcies—and millions of lost jobs—are now more likely, while the science remains inconclusive on whether any health benefits will accrue,” wrote association CEO Tom Bene.

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