States across the country are starting to ease some shelter-in-place restrictions, allowing for restaurants to open their doors to dine-in customers.
"We have a lot of older people in our customer base, and we didn’t want to be the reason for them to get out and possibly get sick and so we decided to go ahead and shut down for three and a half weeks,” said restaurant manager Cameron Dickey of Mid-South BBQ in Tennessee. “We were entirely shut down, and then, we just reopened this past week."
However, the opening of restaurant dining areas comes with some new rules, including limiting seating capacity.
"We can normally seat about 80 people. We have turned that down to 40 people,” said owner Brian Dickey. “We have 10 tables in our dining room, and you can see our dining room is long and thin. It’s about 60-feet deep and 20-feet wide.”
State governments allowing dine-in services at restaurants are working closely with the National Restaurant Association and its ServSafe program to ensure precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of the key tips include face coverings for all employees, says Larry Lynch, the senior vice president for Science and Industry with the National Restaurant Association.
Lynch says the guidelines they're providing restaurants also include more frequent hand washing.
"No one wants a diner to get sick when they’re going out and eating, so they’re focused on the health of their employees. They're focused on the health of the customers and paying attention to guidelines, whatever the states decide," explained Lynch.
Mid-South BBQ says even with half-capacity eating, they have as much business as they did before their shutdown. They've been paying close attention to all guidelines for restaurants, which include putting a large sign at the front door, warning those with any contact with COVID-19 patients or showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus are not allowed inside.
"They've asked us to ask those questions before they come in. We’ve got a huge sign on our front door that says STOP read these…if you have any of these you may not enter and we’re adhering to that," says Brian Dickey. Dickey says they're thankful to be back open but want to be as safe as possible. Every employee in his restaurant, whether dealing directly with customers or not, is wearing a mask.
"We are all wearing masks here. We have all been tested. All of my employees got tested," said Dickey.
All the employees tested negative for COVID-19. As for how long the new rules for restaurants will last, it’s unknown.
"I think you’ll see some changes that will probably work its way into the food code at some point in time,” Lynch said. “Like anything that becomes a government regulation, it takes a while to get there."
Mid-South BBQ can't see the rules relaxing until there's a vaccine, but they're willing to do whatever it takes to protect their community while staying open.