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D.C. Restaurants Are on Track to Reopen for Outdoor Service Only on May 29

The city releases new guidelines set by an advisory group

The rooftop patio at Nina May
The rooftop patio at Nina May in Logan Circle
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

D.C. restaurants will be allowed to host customers outside only with limited capacity when the city begins its first phase of reopening in the coming weeks, according to new guidelines the city released today.

In a public address, Mayor Muriel Bowser says the city is on track to begin its phased reopening plan Friday, May 29. Bowser had previously extended the city’s “stay-at-home” order through June 8, but reserved the right to start lifting restrictions earlier if coronavirus numbers indicated the city had met its reopening criteria earlier. A presentation dated Thursday, May 21, shows 11 consecutive days of decline in a community spread figure tracking COVID-19 cases. D.C. is requiring 14 days of decline before reopening.

The mayor has to revise her “stay-at-home” order to officially trigger the phased reopening. She expects to make that decision by Tuesday, May 26.

The mayor previously commissioned an advisory group split into several committees to issue guidelines for the city’s reopening plan. A committee representing restaurants and food retailers set the following recommendations for the first phase of reopening restaurants:

  • Outdoor table service only, with physical distancing and safeguards in place
  • No buffets
  • No seating or standing at outdoor bars
  • Maximum table size of six people
  • Request that customers provide names and contact information and record time of arrival

The second stage of the restaurant reopening plan allows indoor seating at half capacity and bar seats that are spaced six feet apart. The third phase keeps the mandate for 50 percent capacity but says restaurants can submit case-by-case requests to add seats.

In addition to outlining how restaurants can proceed through the different phases of reopening, the committee recommends they adopt the following procedures while restrictions are in place:

Throughout the reopening plan, the committee recommends all food-handling staff wear masks (already mandatory) and gloves. Restaurants are also encouraged to stock disposable plateware and singe-serve condiments. Prep surfaces should be sanitized every two hours, and businesses should use online systems for reservations and ordering.

The city’s reopening guidelines also include stage-by-stage instructions for grocery stores, farmers markets, and food trucks.

The committee also has a list of regulatory changes it would like to see the city adopt for the longterm, including permanently allowing to-go and delivery alcohol service and giving restaurants the right to use more outdoor areas.

Read full report from the advisory committee below:

Even when reopening begins, some restaurateurs are expected to stick with the reconfigured takeout and delivery operations they’ve instituted during dine-in bans. Kevin Tien, the chef-owner at Asian-American small plates hot spot Emilie’s, for example, has said he doesn’t think he’ll be comfortable serving tables until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, and the space needs to operate at full capacity for a full-service business model to make sense.

Several restaurant owners in Northern Virginia have echoed that sentiment, while others are frustrated they’ve had to wait this long to reopen.

Northern Virginia is also targeting May 29 for the beginning of its reopening plan, while the rest of the state started the first phase of lifting restrictions May 15. In Maryland, where the state’s most populous areas border the District, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have also delayed their reopening plans to fall closer in line to D.C. Montgomery County officials hope to begin easing some restrictions in the next week.

Ocean City, Maryland; Virginia Beach; and Rehoboth, Delaware — all popular destinations for Washingtonians — will all be in early stages of reopening for Memorial Day weekend.