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Diners eating on restaurant patios in the late afternoon in June 2020 at SPX Alley on the Eastside Beltline in Atlanta Ryan Fleisher

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A Timeline of Georgia’s Rollercoaster Restaurant Reopening

From dining room shutdowns and overnight pivots to takeout to restaurant reopenings and mask mandates, so much has gone down in 2020

Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for over 12 years.

It’s been nearly five months since Atlanta first began experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and few industries have endured more trials and tribulations during the health crisis than the state’s dining industry. From dining room shutdowns and overnight pivots to takeout, to reopening pushback, mask mandates, and tough closure decisions, 2020 has been a cruel year for Georgia restaurants and bars.

So much has gone down on the Atlanta dining scene since mid-March. Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s restaurant dining room shutdown and reopening timeline from March through July.

Dining room and bar shutdown

March 19

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms mandated the closure of bars across the city, and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery only.

March 20

The mayor signs a temporary order allowing the city’s restaurants to offer beer and wine to-go. It does not include open containers or cocktails. She continues to extend this order.

*287 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Georgia on March 20, with 10 reported deaths.

March 23

Gov. Brian Kemp orders restaurant dining rooms and bars closed across Georgia. In addition to pivoting to takeout and delivery, some restaurants transform into neighborhood markets or soup kitchens or help conduct food drives through metro Atlanta.

April 3

The statewide shelter-in-place order went into effect for two weeks, which is later extended through April 30. Kemp extended dining room and bar closures through much of the month of April.

A brown paper bag sits on a bar with a half-empty wine glass in front of it. Written in Sharpie on the bag is a message reading “Thank you for your support.”
Takeout bag at the Iberian Pig in Buckhead
Ryan Fleisher

April 20

Kemp laid out his aggressive reopening plan for Georgia businesses. The plan included allowing restaurants to resume dine-in service on April 27 under a strict set of 39 safety requirements. Under this and subsequent orders, no local municipality can implement stricter measures than those laid out by the governor.

The reopening receives a stunning rebuke by President Donald Trump and sets up a months-long power struggle between the governor and the Atlanta mayor, which later lands the two in court.

April 27

Georgia restaurants begin reopening. A list of 39 guidelines for restaurants included a requirement for employees to wear masks. Dining rooms were limited to 10 people per 500 square feet and parties of no more than six people. Bars, salad bars, and buffets remained closed.

More than 120 Atlanta-area restaurants commit to not reopening out of concern for public safety, and join a growing list of restaurants not reopening, citing the health and safety of employees and patrons.

*24,225 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia on April 27, with 994 reported deaths.

Restaurant and bar reopening

May 1

Georgia’s shelter-in-place order for the public is allowed to expire. Bars, buffets, and salad bars remain closed.

May 12

Kemp extended state-mandated guideline compliance period for reopened restaurants offering dine-in service through May 31. The new order increases the maximum party size at restaurants from six to 10 people per table and the dining capacity from 10 patrons per 500 square feet to 10 patrons per 300 square feet.

*44,638 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia on May 27, with over 1,933 reported deaths.

The empty bar with color string lights at Ticonderoga Club inside Krog Street Market Ticonderoga Club

June 1

Georgia’s bars and nightclubs begin reopening. Like restaurants, bars must follow 39 mandatory safety requirements, including limiting capacity to 25 people or 35 percent of total occupancy and allowing parties of no more than six people.

June 16 to present

Georgia restaurants are no longer required to limit the number of people in a dining party or adhere to dining room capacity limits. Bars are allowed up to 50 people or 35 percent total capacity. Buffets and salad bars can reopen with restrictions. All open restaurants and bars must seat people six feet or more apart. Masks are only required to be worn by customer-facing employees.

*59,078 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia on June 16, with 2,529 deaths

According to a recent report by the AJC, the chairman of a U.S. House coronavirus subcommittee sent a letter to Kemp in late July stating that Georgia is not in compliance with the White House COVID-19 task force recommendations. The letter provides six recommendations for the state to implement immediately, including a mask mandate and limiting indoor dining service at restaurants.

Victory Sandwich Bar in Inman Park, parking lot patio
Victory Sandwich Bar in Inman Park
Ryan Fleisher

July 8

As cases continued to surge in Georgia, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance bottoms signed an executive order requiring masks to be worn inside commercial businesses (like restaurants and grocery stores,) other buildings and spaces open to the public within the city limits, and outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. Masks are also required inside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Kemp’s emergency powers during the pandemic prevent local municipalities from enacting more severe COVID-19 measures.

July 16

The governor and his administration filed a lawsuit challenging Atlanta’s mask mandate as well as the rollback of the city’s reopening. Under the voluntary phase one reopening guidelines, Atlanta restaurants are advised to (but not required to) close dining rooms and return to takeout. The lawsuit is still in mediation.

July 30

The city of Atlanta alcohol license review board held its first meeting since before the pandemic via Zoom. The list of restaurant-related applications up for consideration on the agenda was lengthy. The board’s last meeting was held on February 25, three weeks prior to the mayor closing City Hall and other city departments due to the ongoing health crisis. Most city offices remain closed.

Two people wearing masks getting ready to order food from the Window at the Met in West End Atlanta
The Window at the Met in West End
Ryan Fleisher

*204,895 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia on August 6, with 4,026 deaths

Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.


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