SC restaurant association issues letter to help dining areas reopen safely

SC restaurant association issues letter to help dining areas reopen safely
WIS obtained a letter sent to the governor outlining a three-phase approach to reopening restaurants. (Source: WVIR)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (SCRLA) has issued guidelines and recommendations for reopening restaurants in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

WIS obtained a letter SCRLA sent to the governor outlining its recommendations, which suggest restaurants use a three-phase approach to reopening while implementing several new safety measures.

The proposal was reviewed by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) before it was sent to the governor’s office, SCRLA told WIS.

Some of the suggested guidelines include sanitation requirements before reopening, taking temperatures of all employees, maintaining social distancing, and posting signs notifying customers of the measures in place to keep everyone safe.

“We’ll be taking temperatures of employees,” Bobby Williams, chair of SCRLA and owner of Lizard’s Thicket, said. “You’ll see more gloves, I believe, in the dining room. You may see masks in the dining room. You’ll see sanitation stations. You’ll see people in the dining room sanitizing doorknobs, tables, chairs, so it will be a lot more visible.”

Owner of M Gourmet Group, Michelle Weng, said she received a copy of the letter from her food service provider. “I reviewed it, and think it makes great sense," Weng explained. “It’s good for our business, it’s good for customers, and it’s very well planned out. I hope the governor and government will take it into consideration.”

Weng said her restaurants are already following most of the suggested guidelines, and she’s eager to get customers back inside her doors. “I think it’s a good time for us to be opening back gradually. We want to make sure everybody has at least six feet apart, and we have pretty ample dining room," she explained.

The three-phase approach suggested in the letter calls for restaurants to open outdoor dining areas first, then indoor dining, and then the final phase would be easing restrictions on social distancing.

In the letter, it is suggested restaurants open outdoor dining areas May 4 and indoor seating on May 11. However, those dates will be pushed to later in the month, Williams said.

He said the letter was written when there was a three-day downward trend in the number of new coronavirus cases being reported in the state. Since then, however, the downward trend has not continued.

They want to be careful not to reopen restaurants too early and potentially cause another spike in COVID-19 cases, Williams said.

“I don’t think anything could be worse than reopening and there being another outbreak and everything close down again for another two months,” Williams said. “So we’ve got to make sure we make the right decision.”

That being said, he added it could be reasonable for restaurants to open outdoor dining around May 11.

“I could see doing some outdoor dining, just to get people back going into restaurants, outdoor dining maybe on the 11th or so,” Williams said. “And then of course, if the cases start going down, then gradually open the restaurants a week later, with social distancing and selective seating.”

Ultimately, that decision lies with the governor. The SCRLA can only suggest reopening dates.

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“We are not going to jeopardize our employees, and we’re not going to jeopardize our customers,” Williams said. “If it’s not the right time to reopen, we’re not going to reopen, and we’re going to wait for the governor to make that decision but we will do the right thing. We’ve been doing the right thing for the last 40 years, and we won’t do the wrong thing now. Customers need to trust their favorite restaurant.”

This letter and plan for reopening restaurants will be discussed Wednesday afternoon at an accelerateSC meeting, which is the group focused on reopening the state’s economy.

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