Latest Georgia restaurant guidelines come with wave of new openings

Guests will be asked to sanitize their hands following a forehead thermometer scan by the hostess outside of the Select restaurant and bar in Sandy Springs. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Guests will be asked to sanitize their hands following a forehead thermometer scan by the hostess outside of the Select restaurant and bar in Sandy Springs. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp issued his latest executive order outlining business regulations during the coronavirus pandemic. The amendments that pertain to restaurants relax capacity limits for dine-in service, increasing the maximum table size from six to 10.

The new orders also permit 10 patrons per 300 square feet of public space instead of the previously mandated 500 square feet. Waiting areas and bar areas must be included in the space calculations, as well as patio and other outdoor dining spaces, if those are open to the public. They do not include hallways, restrooms, and areas closed to guests.

Bars, nightclubs and live performance venues will remain shuttered through the end of May. Kemp’s latest orders are effective through May 31.

Some of the latest mandates clarify or expand upon the restaurant guidelines that Kemp released in late April. Georgia restaurants now must screen and evaluate workers for signs of illness beyond a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, cough, or shortness of breath. The newest orders include evaluating workers for additional symptoms associated with COVID-19, including chills, muscle pain, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Employees with known or suspected COVID-19 must follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to self-isolate. Previously the isolation period stipulated in the guidelines was seven days. The latest orders require a minimum 10-day period of isolation. After isolating, the worker may return to work if he or she is fever- and symptom-free for three consecutive days without medication.

Salad bars and buffets are also clarified in the latest orders. Salad bars and buffets must be discontinued unless they are “being used for cafeteria style service where a worker is responsible for serving the patron, handling the utensils, and ensuring proper distancing lines.”

Restaurants also must “verify that ware-washing machines are operating at the required wash and rinse temperatures, and with the appropriate detergents and sanitizers.”

“Many of these items are standard in the GA food code that are standard required procedures,” said Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer about the latest orders. “All restaurants must still follow all the rules in our food code.”

Georgia restaurants were permitted to reopen for dine-in service beginning April 27. Some eateries opened that very day, while others unlocked doors later in the week. Two weeks since, a slew of restaurants in greater Atlanta have opened with full-service operations or have announced plans to do so. On Friday, all 18 food vendors at Marietta Square Market will be back in operation, with guests enjoying the food on the patio.

The week of May 18, restaurant magnate Ford Fry will reopen his high-end steakhouse Marcel as well as Beetlecat in Inman Park for sit-down service.

RELATED >> These metro Atlanta restaurants are reopened for dining amid coronavirus pandemic

As operators take the big leap to reopen, they are sharing the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of employees and guests beyond those stipulated by state guidelines and health organizations.

Some eateries have enlisted technology to enable contact-free payments via mobile phones. Places like Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland have invested in state of the art air cleaning systems to bring ease-of-mind breathing to guests.

To ensure social distancing for dine-in experiences, Tamarind Restaurant Group, which operates Nan Thai Fine Dining, Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft, Tamarind Seed and Chai Yo Modern Thai, is only accepting reservations as opposed to walk-in patrons.

While the Georgia Restaurant Association continues to provide resources to restaurant owners on its website, other organizations have additional tools to help food-service operators apply best practices during the public health crisis.

On Wednesday, ServSafe, the nation's leader in food safety training, released guidance for restaurant reopenings. The free ServSafe videos includes best practices for safety, hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting, and social distancing. In addition, local hospitality veteran David Abes and tech company MLevel have teamed up to create a platform for restaurant employee COVID-19 training.