As one of the industries that has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, the restaurant trade is understandably anxious to return to business as usual as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that COVID-19 spreads particularly efficiently in restaurant environments. The issue isn’t hygiene or safety protocols, but rather the possibility that diners might be sharing an enclosed space for hours with someone infected with the virus. And maintaining a 6-foot distance between tables doesn’t necessarily help. A December study from South Korea found, disconcertingly, that the virus can travel more than three times that distance in restaurants in just a five-minute period if there is direct air-flow between tables.
Nonetheless, economic necessity on the part of restaurateurs and the understandable desire of the general public to get out and about and share food and drink with friends and family means that eating places will open and serve diners to the extent that local regulations allow.
These regulations, which cover such issues as mask-wearing, room occupancy, maximum table limits, social distancing, operating hours, and cleaning and disinfecting practices, vary widely from state to state and even, in some cases, from county to county and city to city.
In addition, individual establishments sometimes enforce their own restrictions, more stringent than those officially mandated. At the same time, regrettably, some restaurants choose to disregard the law. Since September, Yelp has encouraged businesses to add information about their COVID-19 measures to their review pages, and the site notes that those that did have seen a 41% increase in consumer interest. Effective Jan. 12, Yelp has also allowed users to publish feedback on the extent to which restaurants and other enterprises are following required or suggested health and safety practices.
Now, the White House has announced that, as part of his multi-faceted coronavirus mitigation program, “President Biden will direct the CDC to provide specific evidence-based guidance for how to turn the dial up or down relative to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in a community, including when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces.”
Since October of last year, 24/7 Tempo has tracked the regulations imposed on restaurant operations, state by state. Because infection rates are extremely fluid, as is the government response to the pandemic in some places, the details change constantly. It is therefore always worth checking with a restaurant before assuming that the information here is still in effect.
To find information on each state’s limits for indoor dining capacity and table size, mask requirements, and other COVID-19-related protocols, 24/7 Tempo consulted the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center Official Return to Work State Guidelines for Foodservice Establishments (updated Jan. 15), the Coronavirus Restrictions and Mask Mandates for All 50 States published by the New York Times (updated Jan. 22), the State-by-State Guide to Face Mask Requirements published by the AARP (updated Jan. 19), the same organization’s List of Coronavirus-Related Restrictions in Every State (updated Jan. 22), and the State & Local COVID-19 Update for January 21, 2021 published by Husch Blackwell, an industry-centered law firm. We also drew on coronavirus websites and the texts of executive orders from most of the states represented here.