It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, from small family businesses to five-star fine dining establishments. Even celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay acknowledged that his restaurant empire is already 60 million Euros behind where they’d be in normal circumstances.
In response to COVID-19, most, if not all, people have changed their typical dining rituals. Local 4 Detroit News surveyed its viewers about their dining habits and attitudes before and during the pandemic. The survey found that pre-pandemic, 1,767 viewers ate out 1-3 times a week, and only 29 said they never dined out. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers look quite different: only 583 viewers eat out 1-3 times a week, and 1,201 said they never dine out at all. In fact, 56 percent of viewers said they would not dine out currently.
That said, the situation is rapidly evolving, from state safety mandates to the availability of vaccines. These changes have the potential to affect customers’ perceptions of dining out. Here is the current breakdown of what is allowed in each state and some considerations for restaurants to keep in mind.
Current Restaurant Regulations, State by State
One useful tool is this frequently updated interactive map provided by the New York Times. The map shows the states where there are mask mandates, curfews, and bans on individual establishments in real-time.
Businesses must uphold mask mandates whenever customers aren’t actively eating or drinking to avoid health code violations. There are currently mask mandates in most Northeastern, Midwestern, West Coast, and Southwestern states.
State curfews can affect restaurants’ operating hours. Although it could impact business, restaurants are required to adhere to these curfews. Currently, there are curfews in Virginia and North Carolina.
Types of Establishments
Restaurants are allowed to be operational in most states. However, bars cannot be open currently in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New Mexico. In Arizona, no bars or nightclubs are allowed to be open. Furthermore, there is currently no indoor dining permitted in Oregon. These regulations change often, and the most up-to-date information can be found here.
CDC regulations dictate that tables should be spaced 6 feet apart to reduce spread from respiratory droplets. Additionally, in any establishment where patrons must wait in line, it would be wise to mark the floor with stickers or other icons to help customers visualize 6-foot spacing.
Future Possibilities for Restaurants
While it is tough to follow the changing rules, there is hope for restaurant owners and operators in the future, including government help, an increasing prevalence of available vaccines, and continued training to keep all staff members aware of updates to safety protocols.
Seek Help From the Government
Released in January 2021, Biden’s latest COVID-19 response plan, the White House, outlined a plan to prioritize funds to help small businesses. These funds will go to PPE supplies and construction to adjust their physical spaces to account for social distancing, including adding outdoor seating. The Small Business Administration will also be working with the Department of Labor to disseminate the most up-to-date information on worker safety. Having a training plan in place for employees can help keep staff knowledgeable of the most up-to-date safety practices.
As vaccines become more widely available, some patrons who previously felt uncomfortable dining out could shift their attitudes. Another possibility is that restaurants could potentially increase their safety measures and reputation as a safe space by requiring proof of vaccine for entry. In this case, it will be essential to train staff to look at vaccine cards for their validity (similar to training staff to examine IDs for proof of age).
As the COVID-19 and state-by-state guidelines are changing daily, restaurants must keep training their staff regularly. Restaurant training is crucial for keeping waitstaff, cooks, and management up to speed while implementing the latest safety measures and recommendations.