Some Chattanooga restaurants will reopen dine-in services Monday after a week of conflicting messages from state, county and city officials.
However, the services will look different for those that do. Servers at Champy's World Famous Fried Chicken will wear masks and gloves. The restaurant will seat people 6 feet apart and no groups larger than six people will be served, said Delaney Still, general manager of the restaurant's downtown location.
"We will have individually wrapped plasticware and individually poured ketchup just so that we are limiting the amount of items that people are touching," Still said.
Still said the restaurant has a new floor chart with tables that will never be filled to follow the social distancing guidelines and ensure the restaurant never has more than 70 people, to follow the 50% capacity measure ordered by Gov. Bill Lee.
Last week, Lee said restaurants could open at half capacity beginning Monday in 89 of Tennessee's 95 counties. However, the six largest counties including Hamilton County could make their own decisions. Then Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he would reopen the county following the governor's guidelines.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the city would remain shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But the governor's executive order left the decision whether to open to county health departments — not cities. The Hamilton County Health Department is following the county mayor's guidelines, allowing restaurants to reopen on Monday.
Not all area restaurants will have open tables this week. The owners of Charlie's BBQ & Bakery — Elizabeth St. Clair and Wes Agee — said they will continue doing their curbside delivery for financial reasons. They can serve more people by carrying out food to their customers' cars than they can if they filled two or three of their five tables inside the restaurant, Agee said.
"By us opening the restaurant, we are not able to provide the volume," he said. "It would actually be detrimental for us to move back inside."
The owners said they are not pushing against the governor's directives. It is simply that reopening at half capacity does not work in their situation.
Shannon Fuller, owner of Zarzour's on Rossville Avenue, said it makes more sense for her to continue doing takeout and curbside for both financial and safety reasons.
"I keep going back and forth and I'm really torn," she said. "I have 10 tables and with social distancing, it doesn't make sense to risk opening up and going full menu and risking having a lot of waste.
Fuller said most of her customers are not ready to return to dine-in services, which aligns with national trends. According to a poll released this month by Gallup, nearly 80% of Americans said they would wait to return to normal daily activities even after restrictions are lifted.
Angela Niemeyer, Bluff View Art District general manager, said the district must complete training and has other considerations before it fully reopens its restaurants, which include Tony's Pasta, Rembrandts and the Back Inn Cafe. The group will not be reopening on Monday, she said.
"We are needing to put procedures in place with training and the correct cleaning agents, etc.," Niemeyer said. "Hopefully, it will be this week. People will be allowed to eat their takeout on the patios with restrictions."
Berke said in a Sunday afternoon news release that "Chattanooga will obey the law, and I will do everything possible to ensure its success."
However, he added that he does not believe the move to reopen businesses now will allow consumers to return to restaurants, shops and other establishments knowing "it is safe to do so."
"The state's plan "fails to account for the growing number of positive cases across the state, and especially in Southeast Tennessee," he said. "It goes against the warnings of public health experts and doctors like those at the Tennessee Medical Association and Vanderbilt University. It lacks the groundwork we need to ensure that restaurant owners and managers understand their responsibilities and have the supplies they need to keep people safe from the virus.
"We also know that if cases increase, the impact will be felt hardest by the most vulnerable people in our city."
In response, the mayor said he would pledge to do everything in his power to ensure that Chattanooga businesses are provided advice and personal protective equipment, and that the city government will continue to help those affected by the pandemic.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.