By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA - Restaurants across Georgia will be allowed to reopen dine-in areas starting Monday, more than three weeks after Gov. Brian Kemp imposed a shelter-in-place order shutting them down.
But restaurant operations will be a far cry from normal, thanks to 39 restrictions listed in an executive order Kemp issued Thursday aimed at discouraging the spread of COVID-19.
Many of the restrictions are similar to those the state is applying to such close-contact businesses as barbershops and hair salons, which were allowed to reopen Friday for the first time since April 3.
All restaurant employees must wear masks at all time, and workers exhibiting signs of illness such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath must be screened and evaluated. Employees who become sick at work or show signs of illness must be sent home.
Restaurants owners will be required to modify their floor plans to ensure at least six feet of separation between tables and use physical barriers for booth seating if possible. Parties at tables must be limited to no more than six, and reservations-only or call-ahead seating should be practiced where practical.
Patrons will not be allowed to congregate in waiting areas or bar areas. Salad bars or buffets will be prohibited, and self-service drink, condiment and utensil stations should be removed.
Restaurants must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before reopening to dine-in customers, with cleaning and sanitizing maintained regularly moving forward.
The executive order encourages restaurants to use disposable paper menus whenever possible. Customers should be provided with hand sanitizer, including sanitizing stations when available.
Despite the restrictions, Kemp has drawn criticism from many quarters for reopening businesses too soon, from President Donald Trump down to mayors across the state, from Democratic lawmakers and from public heath experts.
State and local Republican leaders and some business groups have defended the decision as a first step toward a more robust reopening of Georgia’s economy that will get the growing ranks of unemployed back to work and collecting paychecks.
Kemp’s statewide shelter-in-place order is due to expire next Thursday unless he acts to extend it.