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As Restaurant Capacity Restrictions Lift, D.C. Clarifies Guidance on Masks

An ABRA session today answered reopening questions, including about buffets and leftovers


Today is the day that D.C. restaurants will be able to return to full capacity, per D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement earlier in the month that restaurant operations will be allowed return to pre-pandemic norms on Friday, May 21. The abrupt change surprised many D.C. restaurant owners, and today, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration hosted a reopening webinar to address concerns and questions.

The main topic that kept coming up during Q&A had to do with the issue of masks.

“There is no requirement for face mask wearing at this time,” ABRA Community Resource Officer Sarah Fashbaugh said during the call. But restaurants can take it upon themselves to require masks.

“Establishments may require that patrons wear a face covering when entering the establishment, unless the patron is under the age of two years old or has medical exceptions,” Fashbaugh said. She continued:

The establishment itself will make the decision on whether or not you want to have that policy. Just make sure people are notified about that policy. You may want to have information about that at the door where they enter that establishment. You can also tell people that they must wear masks. But as I said, there are some limitations on who can be required to wear a mask. For example, if there’s a mental or medical health reason, someone can’t wear a mask, then you cannot tell them that they have to wear a mask.

When again asked whether patrons needed to wear masks upon entry or moving around the restaurant, she said: “That is purely up to you.” Staff members can also wear face coverings if they prefer, and must be allowed to do so.

The 30-minute presentation made it seem like dining out is going back towards the way it used to be before the pandemic. The social distancing rule of six feet between tables is no more, and bar seats are back too. There’s no maximum number of guests allowed at a table either, and customers are allowed to stand. Food is no longer required to be ordered with alcohol. Buffets can resume, and customers can take home leftovers in doggy bags.

Activities like ax throwing and bowling are now allowed, and it sounds like last call is back to 2 a.m. Meanwhile, hookah and cigar bars can operate at 50 percent starting today and then at 100 percent capacity starting on June 11. The 50 percent capacity applies to tavern licensing and nightclubs.

As for street eateries, they must stop serving food and drink at midnight and ABRA will be investigating complaints of noise violations.