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What to expect as restaurants begin reopening across the country

States are ordering restaurants to decrease capacity, keep crowded bar areas closed and more.
Restaurants And Theaters Reopen As Georgia Moves Forward With Plans
In Woodstock, Georgia, a bench inside a coffee shop is taped off to ensure social distancing between customers. Restaurants in the state were permitted to open, with certain restrictions, on Monday, April 27.Bloomberg / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

While much of country is still under stay-at-home orders, many states are beginning to roll out multi-phase plans allowing non-essential businesses to reopen this month.

In addition to salons and gyms being permitted to open, many restaurants, which were hit especially hard during the coronavirus pandemic, have started welcoming customers back into their dining rooms this spring — but things are definitely going to look a little different.

So far, 24 states have begun to reopen restaurants, or have plans to do so soon, with various restrictions still in place. States like California and New York, which were hit especially hard with COVID-19, have yet to announce official plans to reopen non-essential businesses. Since March, millions of restaurant workers have been laid off or furloughed as businesses were forced to close their doors in order to maintain safe social distancing practices.

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Some eateries may never look exactly as they did before the pandemic, but as restaurateurs adjust to a new way of doing business, here's what patrons can expect when they go out to eat in the coming weeks.

Bars are still closed at most places

Looking to move that Zoom happy hour into the real world? That probably won't be happening any time soon. Even in the 24 states that are reopening restaurants, most bars will continue to remain closed for dine-in (or drink-in) service. There are a few exceptions, including Montana and North Dakota, which will allow bars to open as long as they operate at 50% capacity. South Carolina will allow bars to resume service for outdoor dining and drinking only.

Helena, Montana's Brewhouse Pub and Grille manager Jackie Hudoba told the Associated Press employees removed half the tables before reopening and they will be wearing masks. Staff members have also been instructed to sanitize tables and chairs between customers.

Restaurants will be less crowded

Diners can expect the restaurant scene to look a lot different for a while. Most states have strict capacity limits to help ensure diners and employees continue to remain at safe distances, even as people resume somewhat normal activity.

In Georgia, one of the first states to allow the reopening of restaurants, the governor released a list of 39 mandated guidelines businesses must adhere to, including spacing out seating areas, requiring employees wear face masks and only allowing 10 people per 500 square feet of space.

Restaurants in other states, including Indiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee will be operating at 50% capacity. Some, like eateries in Alaska and Florida, must operate at 25% capacity.

Diners can also expect to see party size limits, with many states restricting dine-in groups to six to 10 people, max.

Tables will be further apart

Social distancing practices will also remain in place for most, with diners being seated at least six feet apart from surrounding parties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintaining enough space between you and others is one of “the best tools we have to avoid being exposed to the virus and slowing its spread locally and across the country and world.”

Some places are only offering outdoor service

Businessman and friends sitting at table in cafe
Restaurants in a handful of states, including West Virginia and South Carolina, will only be able to seat patrons outdoors for the near future. Getty Images

Luckily, the weather is warming up in many states as we approach the summer, so dining outdoors isn't too much of an inconvenience. Connecticut, Louisiana and New Hampshire are just a few places that will be implementing an outdoor seating-only rule for the time being.

In addition to putting more space between customers, many restaurants will also have to figure out if they need to restructure their interior ventilation systems, a costly and labor-intensive investment.

When states plan to reopen restaurants

So far, nearly 50% of states have announced plans to reopen restaurants in some capacity.

Alaska – April 27, 2020

Arizona – May 11, 2020

Arkansas – May 11, 2020

Connecticut – May 20, 2020

Florida – May 4, 2020 (excluding Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties)

Georgia – April 27, 2020

Indiana – May 11, 2020 (excluding Lake, Marion and Cass counties)

Iowa – May 11, 2020 (excluding Des Moines and 22 of 99 counties)

Kansas – May 4, 2020 (excluding Jackson, Johnson and Wyandotte counties)

Louisiana – May 1, 2020 (excluding New Orleans)

Mississippi – May 4, 2020

Missouri – May 4, 2020 (excluding the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and Jackson County)

Montana – May 4, 2020

Nevada – May 9, 2020

Nebraska – May 4, 2020

New Hampshire – May 18, 2020

North Dakota – May 1, 2020

Oklahoma – May 1, 2020

South Carolina – May 4, 2020

South Dakota – Remains open, as social distancing measures were not enforced

Tennessee – May 11, 2020 (excluding five of the state's 95 counties)

Texas – May 1, 2020

Utah – May 1, 2020

Virginia - May 29, 2020

West Virginia – May 11, 2020

This is a developing story and this list will be updated as more states release new information.