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Guidelines for Reopening Restaurants: Masks, Disposable Menus and Social Distancing

Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington Issue Guidelines to Bring Back Diners

By Randyl Drummer and Clare Kennedy CoStar News

May 13, 2020 | 06:44 AM

Western U.S. states are restricting the use of permanent menus, salad bars and even guacamole as they set rules restaurants must follow to reopen their dining rooms during the coronavirus pandemic.

California and Washington this week joined Arizona and Oregon in issuing guidelines that would allow restaurants to bring people back into their dining rooms in phased reopenings. In general, the rules emphasize a protocol of health screening and intensive sanitation aimed at minimizing potential transmission of the coronavirus.

Colorado has taken a more cautious approach. Gov. Jared Polis said during a briefing on Monday that the state hopes to have enough data about how the coronavirus is transmitted during stay-home restrictions to allow him to make a decision by May 25 on the next steps for reopening restaurants across the state.

The guidelines issued by states so far largely prohibit or discourage crowded waiting areas, open salad and salsa bars, table-side guacamole and salad making by food servers. They also seek to avoid permanent menus that are passed between potentially dozens or hundreds of guests each night, setting the table for a socially distanced experience that could look very different from the past.

The rules come as the restaurant industry faces one of the biggest challenges in its history as stay-home orders and large-scale layoffs and furloughs take a toll. The California Restaurant Association has said the state's stay-at-home order has led to mass layoffs, dramatic drops in revenue and temporary closings, with at least one-third of the state's 90,000 restaurants expected to close permanently.

"The number of restaurants that fall off the radar on an annual basis is already alarmingly high," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday during a daily briefing announcing the new guidelines. "It's one of the most tough, difficult and competitive businesses out there. It is profoundly challenging, particularly for an industry where rents, fixed costs are extraordinarily high."

Restaurants have largely been allowed to provide delivery and takeaway service but revenues have plummeted from the closings of dining rooms. Food service businesses in western states have been hit particularly hard because those states were generally quicker to order the closing of nonessential businesses when the coronavirus began spreading across the country two months ago, and have largely been slower than the rest of the country to consider reopening businesses or other places that attract crowds.

But now, the states, which created a pact to work together in efforts to restart their economies, have begun loosening some of the strict guidelines that have kept businesses closed and residents isolated in their homes.

Newsom issued guidelines Tuesday but did not provide a specific date for when the state would begin to allow the reopening of restaurants. He emphasized that counties such as Los Angeles and the six-county San Francisco Bay Area, where infection levels have been high, may proceed on their own timetable for reopening the establishments.

Face Masks

Among the rules, California diners must wear masks inside restaurants when they aren't eating. Eateries must offer disposable menus or post their menus online, and servers must place glasses and eating utensils, pre-rolled with napkins, on the table after diners sit down.

Reusable items such as utensils and breadbaskets must be washed, rinsed and sanitized in between uses. Customers, rather than wait staff, will have to fill their own takeout containers with leftovers.

Table-side food preparation such as guacamole or Caesar’s salads won’t be allowed under the new rules. Salsa and salad bars, soda, ice and frozen yogurt dispensers and other self-service areas where customers tend to gather or touch food are forbidden, and restaurants must provide the items to guests individually, and discard or clean and disinfect containers after each use.

Employees must thoroughly clean tables, chairs and other restaurant furniture and items after each customer or group's use. Restaurants will need to disinfect commonly used surfaces such as doors, light switches, credit card and ATM terminals, bus tubs, serving trays and water pitchers.

In Oregon, where restaurants will be allowed to begin reopening May 15 in select counties approved by the state, restaurants must provide six feet between tables, limit groups to parties of 10 or fewer and cease food and drink consumption by 10 p.m.

Workers are required to wear masks and shared food items such as condiment bottles and salt and pepper shakers must be provided in single-serve containers if possible.

Similar to California, condiment bottles and shakers must be supplied as needed to customers and disinfected after each use, according to guidelines from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office.

Arizona guidelines don't prohibit salad and salsa bars and other specific types of offerings, urging eateries to “avoid using or sharing items such as menus, condiments and any other food” in favor of disposable or digital menus, single-serving condiments and no-touch trash cans and doors.

In Washington, bars and restaurants are able to resume indoor dine-in operations and sit-down service if they prove they can meet and maintain the requirements laid out by the state, but buffets, salad bars, salsa stations and communal, bar-style seating are not allowed.

Restaurateurs are also obliged to provide hand sanitizers at entryways for all staff and patrons, ensure that social distancing is maintained in any line at food and drink pick-up stations. The businesses are "strongly encouraged" to require face masks for customers during interactions with staff and anytime they are moving about the restaurant.

In addition, there are several limitations in Washington on how many people will be allowed into an establishment, how they are seated and how they are served. Parties of more than five are not allowed and total occupancy must be 50% or less of fire code regulations. Though patio seating will not count against the total occupancy of the building's occupancy limit, it too is limited to 50% of its usual capacity.

To aid contact tracing in the event of a flare up, restaurants that offer table service are required to make a daily log of all customers with each party's phone and email contacts and the approximate time of their arrival. These records must be kept for 30 days.

The state is asking that restaurants minimize the number of staff serving a table, and ask that servers stay six feet away from patrons as much as is feasible. Menus and any condiments left on the table must be single-use only.

In the back-house, employees are required to work six feet apart from one another unless absolutely necessary. If closer contact is needed, they should be given gloves, face shields and goggles if appropriate. Face masks are mandatory unless the employee is alone. To ensure that these requirements are followed, each establishment must have a site-specific coronavirus supervisor during all work hours.

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