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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says that state's restaurants could open dining rooms with some restrictions on April 27.

Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee set to ease business restrictions

Restaurant owners prepare to reopen dining rooms as states lift coronavirus rules

Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina have announced plans to reopen some businesses by May 1 or earlier after they were closed to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday that barbershops, bowling alleys, gyms and tattoo parlors, among other businesses, would be allowed to reopen on Friday if they adhere to social-distancing and hygiene rules, and that dine-in restaurants and theaters could reopen with limitations on April 27.

Other states were making plans for businesses to reopen, spanning from Arizona, with a stay-at-home order that expires April 30, to Wyoming, with a governor’s executive closure order that also expires at the end of the month. Florida has put its Re-Open Florida Task Force on a tight schedule to make reopening decisions by Friday.

Restaurant operators, meanwhile, are preparing for when restrictions are eased.

Vicki Chancellor, an Atlanta-based McDonald’s owner and chair of the brand’s national advertising committee, said that when Georgia reopens every franchisee will review government requirements for restaurants.

But reopening dining rooms won’t come without coordinated dialogue between McDonald’s Corp. and local franchisees, she said.

“We will also make those decisions in coordination with McDonald’s,” she said Tuesday, “It will be a coordinated dialogue with our franchisor.” 

McDonald’s leaders said restaurants will follow local guidelines and make the necessary adjustments when reopening dining rooms, which will likely include expanded safety measures beyond what the brand is already doing now to keep employees and customers safe. The brand recently began checking employee temperatures and is installing safety shields at the drive-thru and inside counter.

Every employee is also required to wear a non-surgical-grade mask, which amounts to 900,000 masks used each day.

“Safety will absolutely continue to be our first priority,” McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger said during a press conference to discuss the brand’s plan to give free meals to first responders.

The White House last Thursday issued a phased plan for “Opening Up America,” but it did not provide a timeline for reopening businesses such as restaurants, gyms and bars.

The federal guidelines suggested states should see a sustained decrease in COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period before easing restrictions. Reopening decisions, however, were left up to governors.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee said Monday that he would not be extending his “safer-at-home” order, which is scheduled to expire on April 30. A “vast majority” of businesses will be allowed to reopen on May 1, his office said.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster allowed some businesses in that state to reopen Monday, just two weeks after they were ordered closed.

South Carolina department stores, sporting goods stores and flea markets can reopen as well as stores selling furniture, books, music, flowers, clothing and accessories. Businesses will be allowed to open at 20% capacity, or five people per 1,000 square feet.

The Hill website offers a list of state-by-state timelines for the reopening process.

Nancy Luna, senior editor with Nation's Restaurant News, contributed to this report.

Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless


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