Tenn., Ga. set reopening standards for restaurants

With dining rooms set to reopen in both states Monday, operators have been given new safety operating protocols.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in Tennessee and Georgia will reopen their dining rooms next week to a new set of state-issued rules and recommendations aimed at holding COVID-19 contamination in check.

The measures cover everything from sanitizing schedules to what personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided to employees.

Both states have set capacity limits, though Tennessee’s targets are guidelines rather than directives carrying the force of law, as is the case in Georgia. 

In the former, restaurants are advised to restore no more than half of their dine-in capacities. Tables should be kept at least 6 feet apart, and no more than six guests should be seated at the same table at any given time.

The bar should not be reactivated, according to what Gov. Bill Lee has dubbed the Tennessee Pledge, essentially a promise from the restaurant that the state’s recommendations are being followed.

The recommendations also specify that buffets, condiment bars and self-service drink refill stations should not be offered. Live music is also discouraged because it might prompt patrons to stand closer than 6 feet apart.

To avoid contamination in waiting areas, guests should designate a lone member of their party to wait on the premises for their table, with the others summoned when the space is ready. The pledge advises restaurants to consider the alternatives of using texting or intercoms to alert customers waiting outside that their table is ready.  

Among the more intrusive of the safety measures cited by either state is Tennessee’s recommendation that operators take the temperature of every customer before being seated. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above should be turned away, according to the pledge.

At the very least, the patrons should be asked if they’ve had a cough, fever, sore throat or shortness of breath, and if they’ve had any contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Employees should wear cloth face masks and disposable gloves at all times, one set per person per shift, according to the pledge.

Both states call for aggressive sanitizing schedules in the standards released by their governors. In Tennessee, any front-of-house item that an employee or guest might touch, from doorknobs to pens, keyboards and kiosks, should be sanitized at least every two hours. Tabletop condiment containers and the tabletops themselves should be sanitized after every seating. Chair seats and backs should similarly be cleaned.

Menus should either be disposable or sanitized after every use. Utensils should be provided in rolled and sealed packets.

Georgia’s legal requirements

Georgia’s operating requirements include many of the same provisions, but are requirements rather than suggestions.

Included are a number of new rules directed at keeping employees safe. For instance, restaurants are required to set a limit on how many employees can be in a break room at any time, though operators are free to decide what that capacity should be.

Work stations should be no closer than 6 feet, and shifts can be staggered to keep fewer employees on the floor at any given time. Employees should be advised that shaking hands is prohibited.

Restaurants are directed to adjust their facilities to put more space between patrons and employees and to limit contact between servers and seated patrons. Employees are required to wear face masks, but not gloves.

Like Tennessee, the state specified that reopened restaurants should forgo buffets, self-service drink bars and condiment stations, and added salad bars and open silverware trays to the roster. But dining places are not required to keep alcoholic beverage bars closed.

If a place offers grab-and-go coolers, the stocked amounts should be kept to a minimum to lessen the risk of the containers’ surfaces being contaminated.

Georgia, too, set a seating cap of six guests per table. Overall capacity is limited to no more than 10 guests at any time for every 500 square feet of floor space available. Bars and waiting areas can be factored into the floor space calculation. Bathrooms and hallways are excluded from the calculation.

Violations of the provisions will be treated as a misdemeanor, and enforcement agents are advised to alert the violator in the hope the lapse can be corrected before a citation is issued or an arrest is made. Those watchdogs will be the same state officials who normally oversee restaurants, according to Gov. Brian Kemp’s order.

But the directive also states that any law enforcement officer can shut down a business after two violations.

Gov. Lee said he opted instead for “specific recommendations which allow most businesses to reopen without the burden of mandates.”

Asked specifically about Tennessee’s guidelines for restaurants and retail establishments, which are greenlighted to reopen Wednesday, the Republican said he expects the business community and representative organizations to police the standards set out in detail in the Tennessee Pledge.  Restaurants will be able to post the pledge in their restaurants and attest to customers that they’re abiding by the stipulations.

Restaurants in Texas are taking the same approach. The Texas Restaurant Association has drafted the Texas Restaurant Promise, a list of safety measures that restaurants can follow to reassure customers that extensive safety protocols are being followed.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to announce a gradual reopening of restaurants and other businesses in his state Monday. His office has yet to release specific recommendations for restaurants.

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