Masks, temperature checks mark ‘new normal’ at restaurants

Kate Brumback and Russ Bynum

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA (AP) – With staff wearing masks, checking customers’ temperatures and using disposable paper place mats, some of the nation’s restaurants reopened for dine-in service on Monday as states loosened more coronavirus restrictions. But many eateries remained closed amid safety concerns and community backlash.

Restaurants in Georgia and Tennessee and Anchorage, Alaska, welcomed diners back, albeit for a different dine-in experience than before the pandemic forced restaurants to close or limit their services to take-out and delivery. In Louisiana, the governor said restaurants will be allowed to seat people outside starting Friday, though without wait service at the tables.

In Georgia, dine-in service and movie screenings were allowed to resume a few days after some other businesses, including barbershops, gyms, tattoo shops and nail salons, began seeing customers on Friday.

“We’re ecstatic to have them back,” said Chris Heithaus, who manages 87 Waffle House restaurants. “A lot of people, I think, want to get back to the new normal, which will be social distancing and all that. But they will be able to eat inside the restaurant.”

At the popular chain known for hash brown breakfasts and its ability to stay open in the face of natural disasters, the “new normal” included employees wearing masks, booths closed to keep customers apart and traditional plastic place mat menus replaced by paper menus.

Governor Brian Kemp announced last week that he would relax restrictions despite health experts’ warnings of a potential surge in infections and disapproval from United States (US) President Donald Trump.

Kemp issued 39 requirements that restaurants must follow, including observing a limit of 10 customers per 500 square feet and ensuring that all employees wear face coverings.

Anchorage began allowing restaurants, hair salons and other retails locations to open on Monday, three days after the rest of Alaska began relaxing restrictions.

Seating must be limited to 25 per cent of capacity, and only members of the same household can sit at a table. A log with every customer’s first and last name and contact phone number must be maintained by the restaurant and kept for 30 days in case it’s needed for contact tracing. All employees must wear fabric face masks, and customers are encouraged to wear them unless eating.

A hairdresser works on a customer’s hair at Southern Roots Beauty Shop in Augusta, Ga. PHOTO: AP
A customer orders food at a Waffle House restaurant in Savannah, Georgia