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When Utah restaurants reopen for sit-down service — possibly as soon as next week — dining will be different.
There will be fewer tables, or some will be blocked from use.
Any waiting for a table — whether inside or out — will require diners to stand 6 feet apart or remain in their cars.
Groups will be limited to six or 10 people (the number is still being discussed) and preferably include only members of the same household.
Employees, from the host and the server to the cook and the busser, will be wearing gloves and masks.
Patrons should wear face coverings, too, at least until they are seated and the food arrives.
Welcome to dining, corona-style.
Despite these heavy restrictions, restaurant owners such as Todd and Kristin Gardiner — who shut down their five Taqueria 27 restaurants in March — are eager to open as soon as the state allows.
Two weeks ago, the couple, along with a few employees, began to clean, paint, sanitize and arrange tables to meet the physical-distance requirements.
On Thursday, their original location on Foothill Drive began offering takeout. They will roll out the service at their four other locations, in downtown Salt Lake City, Murray, Holladay and Lehi over the next few days.
“We need to get our feet wet, running through the system, figuring out spacing,” Kristin Gardiner said. “You can’t just flip a switch and be open.”
Like with most restaurateurs and diners, though, questions remain.
“Are we doing the right thing?” Kristin Gardiner asked. “And once we are open, will anyone want to dine out?’
This much, though, is certain, she said. “We have to open to survive.”
A decision is expected soon on when the state will move from its current red or “high-risk” COVID-19 level to orange or “moderate” — the level that allows dine-in service but “with extreme precaution," according to the Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan.
The newly created Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission presented its own plan Wednesday for moving forward.
Gov. Gary Herbert has until April 30 to decide if he will go along, revise the recommendations or reject them. The latter is unlikely since they closely match his template for recovery.
One difference in the two plans was the spacing between tables. The governor originally wanted 10 feet between tables, but, as of Thursday, the Utah Leads 2.0 plan had been changed to the 6-foot distance the commission recommended.
Restaurants and bars — the latter would have to follow the same rules, too — preferred that distance as well, because it allows for more tables and more closely aligns with the regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explained Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.
Even the 6-foot distance cuts into a good portion of a restaurant’s seating capacity, she said, and will be especially difficult for smaller, independent restaurants to comply with.
In fact, in a recent association survey, most restaurant owners say they will be lucky to break even under the limited seating restrictions.
Corigliano said she received 64 responses to her informal survey and 60% of owners believe they will lose money, and 23% say they will break even.
She plans to use the responses to help inform state officials about what the industry needs to survive the pandemic.
Michael Brooks, owner of Settebello Pizzeria in Salt Lake City, said fewer tables also would affect income for servers who rely on tips. “Some of the tipped positions are getting unemployment right now,” he said, “and with the extra stimulus, it will be hard to compete.”
Here’s what restaurants will look like when they open:
• Six feet between tables. Restaurants must move tables or mark off tables not to be used.
• Limit tables to groups of six, preferably members of the same household.
• In waiting areas, a 6-foot distance must be maintained between parties, whether indoors or out.
• Hand sanitizer must be available at the door.
• When possible, no contact credit card payments will take place.
• No self-serve or buffet can be offered, unless items are prepackaged.
• Face coverings (masks, scarfs, gaiters, bandanas) are to be worn in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
• Playgrounds in restaurants will remain closed.
• Delivery and takeout will still be encouraged.
• Manager will check each employee for symptoms before every shift and ask if any member of the employee’s household has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days. A log must be kept and available for inspection by the local health officer.
• Staffers must wear face coverings and wash their hands between interactions.
• Staggered workstations will be in force so employees are not facing one another and are 6 feet apart.
• Staffers must use gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods (including ice).
• They must sanitize hands between handling payment options and food/containers.