GREENSBORO — As expected, Gov. Roy Cooper is allowing long-shuttered restaurants to once again open their doors.
Cooper made the much-anticipated announcement Wednesday in advance of other restrictions that also may be lifted Friday, when Phase Two of his three-part plan to reopen the state is scheduled to go into effect.
Still, bars, gyms and movie theaters will remain closed for at least five more weeks.
Despite a continued increase in daily cases over the last two weeks, state health officials said other key indicators remain stable enough to allow restaurants to welcome patrons inside starting at 5 p.m. Friday.
“What we have done successfully is to flatten the curve,” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “And that’s what we want to continue to do.”
In anticipation of reopening this weekend, many Greensboro restaurants are bringing back staff to clean tables and make other preparations.
Steve Stern, co-owner of the Reel Seafood Grille, is ready to start serving customers.
“We will open Friday at five o’clock,” he said.
Reopening, though, comes with a number of restrictions set by state health officials. They include limiting the number of patrons to half a restaurant’s seating capacity. Restaurants also must provide 6 feet of distance between tables.
The state isn’t requiring restaurants to limit the number of patrons in a group, but is urging groups to be no more than six.
Some restaurant owners, like Lisa Hawley of Southern Roots in Jamestown, were already preparing for the restrictions based on what others states are doing.
“We took half our tables out of the dining room and we made another outdoor patio in our parking lot so we have 6 feet between every table,” Hawley said.
She said the restaurant will now be able to seat about 55 to 60 diners inside and still be at half capacity.
That idea is something City Council is considering on a broader basis. On Tuesday, the council tasked City Manager David Parrish to come up with a plan to allow restaurants to use sidewalks and parking lots to seat customers. Under the plan, restaurants would have to apply for permission to do so.
The move is to help restaurants, one of the hardest hit businesses by the coronavirus pandemic, gain back some of the seats lost indoors because of the social-distancing requirements set by the state.
In order to get the plan approved in time for the Memorial Day weekend, the council is expected to vote in a special session today.
Stern is keeping his dining room closed, but he will seat about 40 people on a patio.
“We have a very large sidewalk, so we plan to utilize as much of the space as we can,” he said.
To limit the threat of infection from COVID-19, restaurants are expected to perform lots of extra cleaning of tables, booths, chairs, handrails and menus.
Some restaurants are using disposable menus, condiments and utensils as well as installing clear plastic shields at registers.
Stern is trying to keep staff and customer interaction to a minimum.
“We’re not going to preset tables,” he said. “Everything will be handed to the guests once they’re seated or they can take it off the tray if they prefer.”
Restaurants will also be required by the state to conduct daily screenings of staff for symptoms of COVID-19 and to send home anyone experiencing symptoms.
The state is not requiring employees to cover their faces, but is strongly recommending the practice.
Hawley said her employees have worn masks even when business was restricted to takeout orders and will continue to do so.
The same holds true at Reel Seafood Grille.
“The staff will be wearing gloves and masks,” Stern said.
Not all Greensboro restaurants will reopen this weekend. Dennis Quaintance, who operates the O.Henry and Proximity hotels and their respective restaurants, Green Valley Grill and Printworks Bistro, said he will ease his restaurants into reopening.
“It takes a while to get all your ducks in a row,” he said.
Quaintaince said Green Valley Grill may not reopen until June while he works out the kinks, a move that’s indicative of the calculated process many restaurant owners face. In addition to new floor arrangements to allow for social distancing, staff will have to be trained for the extra safety and sanitizing practices required by the state.
“There’s a lot of new procedures that we’ll want to get all worked out,” Quaintance said.