Following a day which saw numerous Atlanta area restaurants announce their intentions not to reopen for dine-in service on Monday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp received a stunning rebuke by President Donald Trump. During a COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday evening, the president said he “disagreed strongly” with Gov. Kemp’s decision to reopen businesses like hair and nail salons, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors this Friday, and restaurant dining rooms on Monday, April 27. Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expires at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 30.
“I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia,” the president said. “But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right.”
The governor isn’t budging, and is leaving the decision on how to safely serve the public in the hands of business owners. “Just like the thousands of businesses currently operating throughout Georgia, I am confident that business owners who decide to reopen will adhere to Minimum Basic Operations, which prioritize the health and well-being of employees and customers,” he tweeted Wednesday night.
The “minimum basic operations” guidelines for restaurants from Gov. Kemp have yet to be released, but could mimic the guidelines released earlier this week for salons and spas. Those measures include: screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms, requiring employees to wear gloves and masks, staggering shifts, and limiting the number of people inside a business. Additionally, Georgia’s restaurant could see requirements such as using disposable menus, contactless pay options, and the spacing out of seating in order to promote safe social distancing.
But for businesses like hair salons and restaurants, maintaining the CDC-recommended six foot distance between people is not easily achieved. It’s a dangerous disadvantage in terms of operating safely during the ongoing pandemic.
Pietro Gianni, one of the owners of Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante and Forza Storico, told Eater Atlanta this week he’s concerned about the lack of clear guidelines for operating a dining room during the pandemic. Gianni says he and his partners, chef Michael Patrick and Stephen Peterson, don’t feel safe opening up their dining rooms before getting more information on how and why the virus is spreading so quickly, and undetected.
“That’s why we decided not to open for now. We need better guidelines from the Governor and Mayor,” Gianni says, who hopes to reopen the restaurants’ dining rooms in mid-May. “We think we will start operating with social distancing guidelines, disinfecting the restaurants regularly, the obvious masks and gloves directed by the CDC, and invite guests to come in at different times and not everyone at 7 p.m.”
Even large restaurant chains like Waffle House are finding it hard to nail down just how dining rooms will operate come Monday. Njeri Boss, Waffle House director of public relations, tells Eater the company is prepared to reopen dining rooms across Georgia next week once they receive the final guidelines from the governor.
“We still continue to refine our plans as we await Governor Kemp’s Executive Order and any requirements that may be contained therein,” Boss says. “Those requirements will help us to clarify what will be done in the restaurants if and when they are allowed to add any form of dine-in service.”
Waffle House plans to limit the number of people allowed to dine inside the restaurants, and will continue with “enhanced sanitation, stringent personal hygiene practices,” and screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms. Boss makes it clear it’s “unrealistic” to believe restaurants can return to normal operations once they reopen their dining rooms, and that Waffle House is not rushing to return to pre-COVID-19 service.
“We are hopeful that Governor Kemp will give the industry an opportunity to responsibly follow best practices while offering customers caloric options beyond the grocery stores, in what are now mostly empty restaurants.”
In the press conference on Monday, Gov. Kemp said it’s up to Georgia businesses to “convince the public” it’s safe to venture out. Kristin Allin, who co-owns Inman Park restaurant Bread & Butterfly with chef Billy Allin, told the Associated Press Wednesday she doesn’t believe people are ready to dine in at restaurants yet. The couple do not plan on reopening for at least another month.
Mychel “Snoop” Dillard, who co-owns Escobar Restaurant & Tapas with rapper 2 Chainz in Castleberry Hill, sees reopening Monday as an opportunity to get her staff back to work. Like Gianni, Dillard also feels not enough information has been provided to owners on how dining rooms will operate during the pandemic. However, she agrees with Gov. Kemp’s decision to give businesses the option to reopen, as long as they make protecting their staff and patrons a priority.
“The governor will be rolling out restrictions. We plan to take heed and implement all restrictions, as safety is the main concern,” Dillard says. “Of course, we are very concerned, but we are also happy that our staff of 120 no longer has to worry about how they will feed their families and stay above water.”
Dillard plans to be at the restaurant every day to make sure her employees are adhering to health and safety protocols. In addition to having their temperatures taken via an infrared thermometer during each shift, Dillard says all staff will be required to wear gloves, and cooks must also wear masks. Front of house staff have been ordered to seat guests where they are able to maintain proper social distance. Failure to do any of the new required protocols could lead to termination.
Eater reached out to the governor’s office Thursday morning to inquire about the new COVID-19 guidelines for restaurants and when those are expected to be released today.
Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and twice-daily updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.