Restaurants receive guidelines to protect customers, employees from COVID-19 during Phase 2 of reopening

Joel Brown Image
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Restaurants receive guidelines to protect customers, employees from COVID-19 during Phase 2 of reopening
Restaurants receive guidelines to protect customers, employees from COVID-19 during Phase 2 of reopening

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When North Carolina moves into Phase 2 of reopening, restaurants and bars will have to follow a list of guidelines and recommendations to protect customers and staff.

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association provided an early release of the guidelines for restaurants, dated May 22, the earliest date that North Carolina may move into Phase 2.

Gov. Roy Cooper has not yet officially announced when Phase 2 will begin, nor has he or other health leaders provided specific guidelines on what will be allowed under Phase 2. However, he and other leaders have previously said that bars and restaurants will be allowed to resume their dine-in services, which have been closed since March 17, with some restrictions.

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The guidelines from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services urges restaurants to encourage social distancing between customers and staff, encourage the use of cloth face coverings and to increase cleaning and hygiene.

Social distancing

Restaurants are required to do the following to promote social distancing between staff and customers:

  • Arrange tables and seating to have at least six feet of space between customers both indoors and outdoors. Customers sitting at counters should be spaced at least six feet apart.
  • No more than 50 percent of maximum occupancy will be allowed inside the building, or 12 people per 1,000 feet if the restaurant does not have a fire code number. The number must be posted in a conspicuous place.
  • Post signs reminding customers and staff to social distance and follow their 3 Ws: wearing a face covering, waiting six feet apart and washing hands frequently.
  • Put markings on the floor in high-traffic areas, such as cash registers or waiting areas, noting six-feet spacings

Restaurants are encouraged, but not required to do the following:

  • Allow no more than six people at a table, unless all people are part of a family from the same household.
  • Refrain from using shared tables among multiple parties, unless parties can be spaced six feet apart.
  • Require customers to wait outside, with markings to ensure they wait six feet apart.
  • Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at the entrance.
  • Educate employees on wearing, safely removing and washing face coverings.
  • Install physical barriers at cash registers or food pickup areas where patrons cannot maintain six feet of separation from staff.
  • Advise waitstaff to stay six feet away from customers when possible.
  • Stagger seating times with reservations or other methods. Stagger employee shifts.
  • Ask people to wait in their cars and alert them by phone when their table is ready.
  • Provide condiments only when asked or provide single-use condiment packets.
  • Continue take-out and delivery options.
  • Use rolled utensils, do not preset tables.
  • Offer contactless and touchless payment options.
  • Sanitize receipt trays, pens and counters between customers
  • Designate an ordering area at bars where customers can order at least six feet from other customers at the bar.

RELATED: South Carolina restaurant uses dolls to help with social distancing

Cloth face coverings

Restaurants are strongly encouraged to do the following:

  • Ask employees and customers to wear a cloth or disposable face covering when near other people in the restaurant.
  • Provide single-use face coverings for employees and customers.
  • Share guidance on wearing, removing and washing cloth face coverings

Cleaning and hygiene

Restaurants are required to do the following to sanitize and prevent the spread of disease:

  • Perform ongoing and routine disinfection of high-touch areas and shared objects--such as doors, doorknobs, rails, payment terminals, countertops, tables, receipt trays and condiment holders--with an approved disinfectant and increase disinfection during high traffic times. Booths and dining tables must be disinfected between use and the disinfectant must be allowed to sit for the necessary amount of time recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Ask staff to wash hands frequently and use hand sanitizer, especially at the beginning of their shift.

Restaurants are encouraged, but not required to do the following:

  • Check and refill hand sanitizer stations and make sure soap and hand drying materials are available at sinks.
  • Use disposable menus, a menu display board, or mobile menus.
  • Use single-use or disposable linens. Sanitize cloth linens between customers.
  • Avoid offering self-service food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars and drink stands. If self-serve is used, provide an attendant to monitor social distancing and remove contaminated utensils and food, change and sanitize serving utensils every 30 minutes, have employees plate food for customers, and encourage hand washing and hand sanitizer use among customers.

Monitoring for symptoms

Restaurants are required to do the following to encourage employees and customers to monitor for signs of illness:

  • Conduct daily symptom screening of employees and immediately send symptomatic workers home.
  • Post signs at the main entrance asking people who have been sick with cough and/or fever not to enter.
  • Employees who have symptoms when they come to work or who develop symptoms during their shift should be immediately separated from other employees and customers and sent home.

Restaurants are encouraged, but not required to do the following:

  • Have a plan to remove sick employees from work.
  • Establish sick leave policies and expand paid leave.
  • Not allow employees who are symptomatic to return to work until they have not had a fever for at least 72 hours, other symptoms have improved and it has been at least 10 days since they first began showing symptoms.
  • Require symptomatic employees to wear masks until they leave the restaurant.
  • Clean and disinfect after an employee or customer shows symptoms.
  • Provide employees with access to helplines including NC211 and Hope4NC.

Other recommended actions

  • Designate a specific time for customers and employees at higher risk of severe disease to access the restaurant.
  • Allow employees to self-identify as high risk and reassign their duties to minimize face-to-face contact with others.
  • Combat misinformation with webinars, educations, posters and online messaging.
  • Follow CDC guidelines to minimize risk of waterborne illnesses.
  • Make sure ventilation systems are working properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible.

In the kitchen at Vic's Italian Restaurant in Raleigh's City Market, Tuesday night, the cook was still piling toppings on the pizza and turning out the tiramisu -- but they're doing it with half the staff furloughed and the profit loss that comes with a pandemic shutdown of dine-in customers.

Co-owner Michael Longo, whose father bought the restaurant nearly 30 years ago was pleasantly surprised to learn of the specifics included included in the guidance from DHHS.

50% capacity especially caught Longo's eye. He'd been hearing rumors restaurants would be limited to 20% capacity -- which would've made re-opening much more economically risky.

"We could've only sat ten people in here including our staff. Our restaurant is not that big," he said. "So it's one of those things where I don't think we would've opened; it wouldn't have paid off for us to open up. So we were gonna want it to get to 50%, and now that it's gonna happen this weekend, that's good news."

As Longo listened to long list of requirements and recommendations from the state he admitted compliance would be daunting - but necessary.

"There's definitely a lot of rules that we're gonna have to look into. And I'll tell you right now, we're not taking this lightly," he said. "We will be obeying all those rules and doing the best we can."