Reopening a restaurant or even just the dining area after being forced to close or offer takeout, curbside pickup or delivery for almost two months is not simply a matter of unlocking the front door and turning on the "open" sign, many owners in the area say.
The Hamilton Country Health Department, in accordance with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's recommendations, has issued a list of requirements for restaurants to follow when they open again.
"We know the reopening of restaurants is of great interest not only to our local owners and food industry workers, but also to residents who want to patronize these establishments," says Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes, "But we can't stress enough that reopening doesn't mean the pandemic is over. We strongly urge everyone to continue practicing social distancing, everyday actions, and adhere to these restaurant guidelines to prevent an increase in COVID-19 infections."
Still, even though the Governor Lee's Executive Order 29 (EO-29) went into effect Monday, many area owners have chosen to stay closed for now while they digest the requirements and try to decide if they can follow them, and if it is financially worth reopening now when they are required to limit seating to 50% of occupancy.
Miguel Morales is the owner of Chattanooga Feed Co. Table & Tavern, 1885 Grill and the Parkway Pourhouse. He said on the local "On The Move" radio show that he is looking to reopen his dining rooms within the next couple of weeks.
"I think we have to sit down and crunch the numbers, just like we did before we opened in the first place, to make sure this new normal makes sense," he said. "It's complicated."
Morales said one silver lining has been that he has been able to make the large-scale improvements and renovations to things like floors and bars that can only be done with an empty room for a length of time.
Owners also worry about a possible spike in the number of coronavirus cases forcing a second closure.
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CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) HOTLINE - 423-209-8383
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For up-to-date, reliable, and accurate information about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), residents and organizations can call the Health Department’s hotline at (423) 209-8383. Organizations can ask for the following sector-specific information:
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"I'm going to wait awhile," said Jesse Howard, general manager at Diamond Billiard Club."I'm not sure the juice is worth the squeeze, right now."
Mark Holder at Diamond said that they managed to find a supply of gloves, but that workers will need to replace them after touching everything from money to food trays to menus.
"And, they are 5 cents a pair," he said. "It adds up pretty quickly."
The guidelines sent to the restaurant owners also states that alcohol take-out and delivery remains unaffected by the Executive Order 29.
According to the Hamilton County Health Department, the guidelines for employees at restaurants include:
* Wear face coverings and gloves
* Report any symptoms of illness to supervisor
* Follow daily sanitation protocols
To protect consumers, restaurants must:
* Limit occupancy to 50% of seating capacity
* Space tables 6 feet apart
* Limit seating to six per table
* Use social distancing standards in waiting areas
* Keep bar areas closed
* No live music
* Screen customers with basic questions about COVID-19 symptoms
* Sanitize all front-of-house contact surfaces every two hours
* Use disposable menus or sanitize menus between each use
* Use rolled silverware/napkins stored in sealed bins
* Sanitize chairs and all tabletop items after each table turn
* Do not offer self-serve buffets, shared condiments, or beverage station re-use
* Provide ServSafeCOVID-19 training for all food handlers
The governor's office includes additional guidelines for restaurants on its website at tn.gov.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.