Georgia Reopens: What This Means for Full-Service Restaurants
This month Georgia become one of the first states in the U.S. to reopen nonessential services. Many states began the transition on May 1st but unlike them, governor Brian Kemp implemented some of the most aggressive reopening policies in the country.
By mid-May, Georgia businesses and lawmakers alike began looking to ease restrictions even further. They’ve already allowed dine-in services to resume and now hope to allow businesses to commence operating at higher capacity.
On April 24th, the state opened a variety of nonessential businesses such as gyms and personal care services, although recreational gatherings like nightclubs and music venues. Three days later, restaurants were permitted to reopen dine-in services so long as they continually comply with safety guidelines established by their local, state and federal governments.
The decision to reopen so quickly, despite failing to meet the federal administration’s suggestion that states remain closed until they see a significant and steady decline in confirmed COVID-19 cases, has met with serious controversy but despite protests, restaurants all across the state recommenced dine-in services including Waffle Houses and at least twelve others in the Atlanta metropolitan area alone. All have added various safety measures to protect their customers as best as possible. While these precautions vary from business to business, they typically involve steps like:
- Spread tables out to ensure proper distance between customers.
- Limit the number of guests allowed on the premises together.
- Limit the number of guests sharing a table.
- Provide hand sanitizer for everyone who enters the restaurant.
- Give and require face masks for every employee at all times.
To help restaurants through this transition, Georgia’s state government released thirty-nine guidelines to follow moving forward, including screening employees for signs of illness and restricting the amount of customers allowed in a given area. They also laid out additional provisions for restaurants, for example limiting party sizes to six people maximum, although restrictions have since changed to allow up to ten guests per table. These guidelines also encourage businesses to replace or clean face masks every day.
Despite lenient social distancing policies, many restaurants decided to keep their doors firmly shut. The economic impact isn’t worth the risk to their employees’ and customers’ safety. Other restaurants have kept certain aspects of the business running and thus prefer to continue takeout and delivery services only for the time being. Some chose to instate services besides dine-in to increase operations without drawing a crowd, for example curbside pickup or offering dine-in only in certain areas, like a patio, where they have more room to distance guests without reinventing their entire floor plan. Some have even outfitted areas, like a yard or parking lot, with tables and chairs to prevent overcrowding in smaller, enclosed spaces.
Most Georgia restaurants simply want additional and more stringent guidelines from the state before they reopen to full capacity so that they have a better idea of how to protect themselves and their customers. These concerns are compounded by the lack of supportand in some cases outright disdainfrom the federal government about Georgia lifting its restrictions, as well as strong encouragement by leading health experts to continue stringent lockdown procedures for the greatest public good.
Restaurants who choose to reopen do so for a variety of reasons. Some insist they’re not financially motivated and instead simply need to return to their normal lives, which they’re eager to do as soon as possible. Many have expressed that the state’s thirty-nine guidelines aren’t comprehensive enough and set out to establish their own rules and expectations.
Even with these measures, restaurants who reopen need to revolutionize their business operations. To balance between reestablishing a steady revenue stream and contending with heightened safety concerns from customers, Georgia restaurants need to find ways to provide contactless service and they’ll be the pioneers who set the standard for which provisions work and which need to reassessment. Additionally they will be the first to find creative solutions to problems like reusable menus and employees working in tight spaces. These food service establishments are buying a lot of face covers and hand sanitizer right now.
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Despite states giving license for restaurants to reopen, consumers ultimately dictate their success. Most restaurants don’t expect customers to flock to sit-down dinners anyway, since the majority of people are still concerned with gathering in large crowds or public places. Since partially reopening at the beginning of the month, Georgia hasn’t seen a massive spike in COVID-19 casesbut they haven’t had the numbers decrease either.
Still, mass dissatisfaction has prevented a lot of restaurants from returning to full service. Multiple businesses tried to reopen at the beginning of the month but pushed it off or reconsidered entirely after public backlash. People are desperate to get out of quarantine but most simply aren’t ready to subject themselves and their family to the risks of the virus.
As states reopen and we once again adapt to a “new normal,” customers and restaurants need to work together to cultivate a safe and healthy environment. Georgia is setting the stage for how partial reopens will affect the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. Over the next couple of weeks, the country will begin to see what works, what needs adjusting, and the real effects of even just one state restarting some of its normal business operations. As Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, says, “I don’t care what your company does. Every business in America is in the health and wellness business.”
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