Massachusetts opts for different ways of making restaurants safer

Measures taking effect on Sunday will cap restaurant stays at 90 minutes and limit parties to six people, but capacities will not be reduced.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Instead of reducing restaurants’ onsite dining capacities, Massachusetts is adopting less-severe requirements to bolster the safety of guests and employees during the current surge in coronavirus infections.

Starting Sunday, patrons will be required to wear a mask except while actually eating and drinking.  That requirement extends to speaking with servers while ordering or asking for the check. Employees are already required under earlier-imposed restrictions to wear masks at all times.

Dining times will be limited to 90 minutes, and restaurants will be forbidden to seat parties larger than six people. The limit is currently 10 patrons.

Live entertainment will be prohibited, and food court seating in malls and other venues will be suspended.

The new measures will stay in place until the state flattens its spike in new COVID-19 cases, state officials said Tuesday.

The restrictions are far less severe than the new limitations that will be imposed on a number of other industries within the state. Gyms, stores and other places open to the public will be required as of Sunday to use no more than 40% of their total capacities, and indoor entertainment venues will be required to shut down.

State officials did not say why restaurants were essentially exempted from the new capacity cap. They noted that the industry has been particularly hard hit, and praised operators for what they’ve done to date to keep guests and employees safe.

The moves come as operators in a number of other states are contending with suspensions of indoor and outdoor dining as well as a reduction in indoor capacities.

“We’ve asked a lot of our restaurant owners across our state,” Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said in announcing the new measures Tuesday. “The restaurant community has gone to great lengths to enact safety protocols and has done a great job of operating safely. They’ve been creative, they’ve been innovative, and they’ve worked hard to make people feel safe.”

Still, she added, “it’s important that we use every prevention strategy.

The Massachusetts Restaurant Association noted the praise, but noted that restaurants in the state are still direly in need of financial help “or even a plan.”  It once again called for the U.S. Congress to push through some form of relief for the industry before it recesses.

“If they do not get their job done – restaurants will be left out in the cold for months,” the association said on its website.

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