What will operations look like after states reopen dining rooms?

Most states are still drafting the guidelines, but a few glimmers have emerged.
Photograph: Shutterstock

What will dine-in service look like in Georgia and Tennessee when restaurants there are permitted to reopen their dining rooms next week? New operating guidelines for those states, the first two to lift restrictions on the industry, are still being drafted by their governors. But operators in other jurisdictions are already getting a glimpse of what business will be like during the next phase of the coronavirus crisis.

The picture is particularly detailed for dining places in Texas, the nation’s second-largest restaurant market. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he expects to start greenlighting businesses to reopen on April 27, with a second wave given the go-ahead a week later.

The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) has drafted the Texas Restaurant Promise, a comprehensive list of operational recommendations that aim to reassure consumers about the safety of restaurants after dining rooms reopen.

Among the best practices recommended for operators that want to assure customers they’ve made the restaurant promise:

  • Doing a preshift health check of every employee.
  • Certifying every staff member in food safety, with a certified manager on duty for each shift.
  • Either using disposable utensils, placemats, condiment packages and menus, or sanitizing the items after every use.
  • Making hand sanitizer available to all employees and sanitizing a dining setting after every use.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing all surfaces.
  • Observing health officials’ social distancing recommendations.

In addition, operators are encouraged to close buffets and topping bars; promote the use of contactless payment systems such as credit card processors or apps; limit tables to 10 customers; and designate a contact person to whom patrons could reach out if they had a concern or wanted to report a safety infraction.

Guidelines have also been issued by Alabama, where Gov. Kay Ivey has revealed plans to gradually reopen businesses starting May 1. Places that resume dine-in service will be required to keep tables at least 6 feet apart unless some sort of divider is present, and no party larger than six customers can be accommodated at one table.

Condiments must be available only upon request, and never left on a table. If a customer wants a drink refill, a new cup has to be used. Menus must either be laminated and cleaned after every use, or disposable.

Door handles and other points of frequent customer contact must be cleaned every two hours. Tables, chairs, stools and booth seating must be sanitized after every use.

Employees may wear masks and are assumed to have gloves available, though the hand protectors are not required. They will be required to alert supervisors, either on the job or from home, if they feel ill or run a fever.

Waiting areas must be marked to show the 6 feet patrons should remain apart until they’re served or seated.

Restaurants are advised to post a sign on their doors to inform customers that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 will be turned away.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not formally issued new restaurant guidelines, but has commented in asides during his press briefings that it will be common to see servers in face masks and disposable menus. He has indicated that the masks will likely continue to be required through the summer.

Reopening guidelines for restaurants and other businesses shuttered by the pandemic are still being drafted by Arizona, Alabama (which has set a date for easing social distancing of May 4), Kansas (May 4), Maine (April 30), Maryland, Michigan (May 1), Mississippi (April 27), Nebraska (May 1), Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Utah (May 1) and Wyoming (May 1).

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced yesterday that he would allow a number of retail businesses to reopen, but restaurants were not among them.

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