Gov. Brian Kemp issued guidelines Thursday for restaurants to resume dine-in service next week, forging ahead with his plan to ease coronavirus restrictions despite opposition from President Donald Trump, Democratic leaders and health experts.
The guidelines require restaurants that want to reopen Monday to adhere to 39 guidelines, including screening employees for signs of illness, requiring all staffers to wear face masks at all times and limiting capacity to no more than 10 patrons per 500 square feet.
The standards were released shortly after Trump blasted Kemp at his Thursday briefing, saying repeatedly that he was "not happy" with his Republican ally.
And they came a mere four days before dine-in services are permitted, giving restaurants who want to do so a short time-frame to comply.
Kemp announced earlier this week that barber shops, gyms and other businesses he closed on April 3 could reopen Friday if they follow his office's safety standards. The guidelines for restaurants to open for sit-down customers came a few days later.
Many metro Atlanta restaurants had already made the voluntary decision to close their dining rooms and patios before Kemp's statewide ban on dine-in service took effect, and some transitioned to a takeout-and-delivery model.
Several restaurateurs said in interviews that a Monday opening date was impossible, while others were waiting for Kemp's executive order before making a decision. In other parts of the state, though, businesses are gearing up to fling their doors open.
“Restaurants that choose to open need to be vigilant and diligent about all these practices,” said Karen Bremer, chief executive of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
“They cannot afford to cut a single corner and need to be guardians to creating the renewed trust between guests and restaurants. If a restaurant is not committed to that, they should not open.”
Among the other mandates, restaurants must limit table size to no more than six customers and “increase physical space between staff and patrons.”
The handful of metro Atlanta restaurants that announced plans to reopen include Escobar Restaurant and Tapas Lounge in Castleberry Hill and Marietta Square Market Food Hall, which each announced some form of sit-down service prior to receiving Kemp's guidelines.
Kemp's administration rolled out the new guidelines a day after Trump said he "totally" disagreed with the governor's plan, and the nation's top federal health officials warned it could trigger a new wave of outbreaks. Several Georgia mayors, meanwhile, have urged residents to ignore the directive.
The rebuke put Georgia Democrats in the unusual position of siding with Trump. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell said Thursday that Trump raised the same concerns that he highlighted in a letter Tuesday urging Kemp to slow his rollback.
“We agree with the president,” said Trammell. “The president said exactly what we said on Tuesday — it’s too much, too soon. It’s too fast. We need a gradual reopening.”
And Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has emerged as one of the most prominent Democratic critics of Kemp’s approach, said Thursday on MSNBC she was “very surprised to hear the president come down so hard on our governor — and even more surprised that I agreed with our president.”
Refusing to reverse course, Kemp said his approach was a “measured” step to help rebuild the state’s tattered economy. He didn’t comment Thursday, but on Wednesday Kemp said he was pushing ahead to “protect the lives — and livelihoods — of all Georgians.”
At Marietta Square Market, owner Rich Dippolito said he plans to reopen next Wednesday for outside dining only, subject to social distancing restrictions. The indoor dining room, meanwhile, will be shuttered for a few more weeks, at least until May 15.
And the owners of Escobar Restaurant — a joint venture between Mychel “Snoop” Dillard and rapper 2 Chainz — said they’ll take safety precautions such as screening staff members with infrared thermometers and requiring them to wear masks and gloves. They also plan to allow valet service and DJs on weekends.
“This is a huge priority for us,” said Dillard of health precautions. “This will be an ongoing thing.”