Most restaurants expected to remain closed in phase one

Published: May. 4, 2020 at 5:25 PM CDT
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Restaurants in all but three Florida counties were able to open their doors to dine-in customers Monday.

It comes a month and a half after the Governor ordered restaurants to close their dining areas and customers. Eli Nortelus in Tallahassee are now returning to their favorite eateries.

“It's a safe move. I've still got my mask, we're staying six feet apart,” said Nortelus.

There are a number of restrictions.

Paper menus, social distancing, no parties larger than ten and the biggest catch: Restaurants can only operate at 25 percent capacity.

“It's a start,” said Geoff Luebkemann, Vice President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Looking at data from other states that have moved to open, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association expects to see only 25 to 30 percent of restaurants reopen.

“Some of our members are taking advantage of a gradual ramp up to clean, get ready, get systems back in place and in order. While others as you point out, have made a business choice to wait until they have a little more capacity,” said Luebkemann.

Nathan Line, a hospitality professor at FSU, is more optimistic.

“I do think it makes sense to open up. You know a lot of restaurants have managed to do well enough over the past two months with just takeout,” said Line.

While experts we spoke with say opening makes sense for restaurants in cities like the state capital, in cities more dependent on tourism, opening may be harder to justify financially.

“With hotels remaining at very small occupancies or even closed and certainly some of our larger attractions around the state, it really does come down to geography,” said Luebkemann.

And experts said this initial reopening will act as a sort of test.

The state will be watching case numbers closely.

A large enough spike could close dinning rooms once again.

A task force report commissioned by the Governor recommends allowing restaurants to operate at 75% capacity and bars at 50% in Phase Two, but the Governor will make the final call.