Special Report

Restaurant Reopening Restrictions in Every State

Everybody wants our states and cities to reopen — to get back to business as usual. The situation is particularly critical for the restaurant industry, which has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) reports that some 100,000 restaurants across the country have already closed due to the effects of COVID-19, and a survey conducted by the organization found recently that 40% of the operators that remained open fear they will be out of business by spring. (These are 50 of the most popular restaurants that won’t reopen after the pandemic.)

Every state has its own reopening plans, typically divided into at least three phases and sometimes as many as five. The good news for restaurants is that as infection rates decline in various places, many states are substantially easing constraints and permitting indoor dining under specifically defined conditions.

A study of the NRA’s Restaurant Law Center Official Return to Work State Guidelines for Foodservice Establishments, as updated Oct. 1, shows that most states take a similar approach to such key issues as monitoring employee health, sanitizing every surface that could possibly harbor the virus, minimizing physical contact between employees and customers, and enforcing social distancing protocols and limits to table size. 

Capacity limits, however, vary. A few states still restrict the seating of diners indoors to only 25% of fire code occupancy limits, but in other places the limit is 50%, 75%, or even 100% (with some restrictions). Note that these maximum percentages aren’t absolute and are contingent on restaurants being able to observe social distancing requirements as they fill their tables. Some states also specify the maximum number of people who can be seated in each room.

Click here to see restaurant reopening restrictions in every state.

There are also some notable differences between states regarding hours of service (particularly involving alcohol), the installation of physical (glass or plastic) barriers, and regulation of traffic flow for both diners and staff. And mask rules vary, too, with a few states merely recommending and not mandating their use indoors, and with age parameters varying. Connecticut and the District of Columbia, for instance, require face coverings for two-year-olds and up, while in Delaware the starting age is 11.

Every state takes seriously the safety of all concerned, though, and most have issued detailed guidelines to help restaurants begin functioning again.

Using the NRA report and other sources, 24/7 Tempo has assembled a state-by-state list of mask requirements, occupancy limits, and maximum table size, and has reported on some key features of each jurisdiction’s guidelines. 

It is important to note, though, that while a number of states progressed over the summer to substantial easing of restrictions, many have since been forced to pause or roll back their plans as COVID-19 cases spiked. These are the states where the virus spread is slowing (and where it’s still getting worse).

Like seemingly everything else about COVID-19, the details of restaurant reopening policies are subject to change on a daily basis. 


To find information on seating capacities and table limits 24/7 Tempo reviewed the Official Return to Work State Guidelines for Foodservice Establishments published by the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center, updated Oct. 1. Information on mask requirements was taken from the same source and from Facing Your Mask Duties — A List of Statewide Orders, current as of Oct. 2, published by Littler, a law firm specializing in labor and employment law. Other information comes from these two sources and from Nation’s Restaurant News as well as from published executive orders and health department guidelines from various states.

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