Special Report

Restaurant Reopening Restrictions in Every State

Everybody wants the economy to “reopen” — most certainly including restaurateurs, whose industry is among those most drastically affected by the pandemic. Unfortunately, after an early autumn lull, the coronavirus has come roaring back in much of the country as the weather has cooled, and many cities, counties, and states that had eased restrictions on eating places have had to reinstate them, sometimes more harshly than before.

Most states take a similar approach to restaurant regulations, covering such subjects as monitoring employee health, imposing stricter sanitation protocols, and minimizing physical contact between employees and customers. However, there is considerable difference on other matters, such as seating capacity limits. Mostly the restrictions are in reaction to the severity of the pandemic within the state’s borders. These are the states where the virus spread is slowing and where it’s still getting worse.

States differ in their mask requirements (though most states now requires face coverings to be worn inside public spaces, except when people are actually eating or drinking), capacity limits for indoor and sometimes outdoor dining, restrictions on the number of diners allowed at each table, and mandated closing times. These issues, among others, are outlined on a state-by-state basis by a survey, conducted by the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center, called Official Return to Work State Guidelines for Foodservice Establishments.

One dramatic change in the regulatory landscape in recent weeks, following spikes in coronavirus cases, is that some states have taken the most restrictive step of banning all indoor dining at least temporarily. The bans are scheduled to expire on various dates in the early weeks of January, but if infection rates remain high, they will almost certainly be extended.

This is terrible news for the restaurant industry. Some establishments have been able to pivot to mostly outdoor dining (especially if they’re in warmer climes) or have been able to struggle along doing just takeout and delivery business. Indoor dining bans or severe capacity restrictions, though, will doubtless cause more restaurants to shut down permanently. The coronavirus has already been responsible for almost all of the saddest restaurant closings of 2020.

 Click here to see restaurant reopening restrictions in every state.
Click here to see our detailed methodology.

24/7 Tempo has reviewed the Restaurant Law Center survey and other updated sources of information, including those published by the states themselves, to assemble this list of coronavirus-based mandates in every state.

Note that, in common with other kinds of information about COVID-19, restaurant protocols change from week to week and sometimes day to day as states and local jurisdictions respond to increased or decreased infection fates, ICU capabilities, and other factors. The information here is accurate today, but may not be tomorrow.