What happens if a restaurant isn’t following Kemp’s guidelines for dine-in service?

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp makes remarks during a press conference at Liberty Plaza. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp makes remarks during a press conference at Liberty Plaza. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia restaurants were allowed to reopen for on-premise dining this week as Gov. Brian Kemp lifted some of the business restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Any restaurant that offers on-site dining is required to adhere to a set of 39 guidelines that are intended to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19 among patrons and workers. The executive order also applies to restaurants that have not opened their dining rooms, but that are offering delivery, curbside pick-up and/or drive-thru services. The executive order overrides any other municipal or county rules.

Among mandates, employees must wear face coverings at all times and operators must screen and evaluate workers who exhibit signs of illness. Restaurants must limit the number of customers to a maximum of 10 per 500 square feet of floor space and a maximum of six diners per table. Numerous items in the guidelines address cleaning and sanitation. Besides taking measures to increase the physical space between workers and patrons, restaurants are required to enforce social distancing of non-cohabitating persons while present on the property.

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If a restaurant appears to be violating the guidelines, the Georgia Department of Health will investigate the complaint.

“If DPH receives a complaint about a facility not adhering to the guidelines, a health inspector will visit the facility to verify the complaint,” DPH Director of Communications Nancy Nydam said in an email. “If guidelines are not being followed, the inspector will provide education on what steps must be followed. If the facility continues to disregard the guidelines, Public Safety may be called in to assist.”

Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer clarified that if a restaurant is found to be in violation of the guidelines two times, it would be closed for the duration of Kemp’s executive order. She said that law enforcement officials would only be involved in cases related to repeat violations of Kemp’s executive order. “If it’s a typical inspection and food code issue, then Georgia Department of Public Health would handle as normal,” Bremer said.

Bremer also noted that the guidelines allow for interpretation, similar to the Food and Drug Administration manual that health officials refer to when interpreting food codes. “The food code in Georgia is 169 pages. The FDA manual that has the explanations is about 700 pages,” Bremer said. “There has to be an interpretation of it.”

A free Guide to Reopening for Georgia Restaurants is available on the GRA website. The GRA has also posted a seven-page Q&A explainer that addresses each of the 39 guidelines. According to Bremer, the document was prepared in consultation with officials from the Governor's office and DPH.

Consumers who have questions or complaints about a restaurant should contact the County Environmental Health Office in the county where the restaurant is located. For after-hours public health emergencies, consumers can call 1-866-PUB-HLTH (782-4584).

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from the Georgia Restaurant Association regarding compliance and enforcement of the executive order guidelines. 

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