Texas Issues Detailed Rules For Reopening Restaurants — Updated
Texas governor Greg Abbott’s office has issued a guide called Open Texas, which is available as a downloadable PDF. The booklet includes a section of Minimum Standard Health Protocols for restaurants to follow upon reopening, which is allowed on May 1 but with only 25 percent occupancy.
Updated, 5/21/20, 9:55 a.m.: The Open Texas guidelines for restaurants have been recently updated and restaurateurs should download the most recent version. As of May 25, restaurants are allowed to operate at 50% guest occupancy. The occupancy count does not include staff.
Note that these are minimum guidelines for both restaurants and customers. Owners can implement stronger safety procedures if desired. The protocols are available as a checklist in the Open Texas guide, but below is a distillation of these new guidelines.
Update, 5/21/20, 9:54 a.m.: When the rules for bar openings were issued on May 25, many noticed that bar counters are to be blocked off and barstools removed, if possible. Many wondered why restaurants with in-house bar areas did not have the same requirement. Yesterday evening, the Texas Restaurant Association shared that the governor’s office has now issued the same rule for restaurants as follows:
“Physically block off the bar and remove or block off bar stools so customers may neither sit nor order at the bar itself.” An updated version of the Open Texas guidance for restaurants is available online.
- Six-foot social distancing has to be enforced, including for customers waiting to be seated. Customers are expected to abide by this requirement and stay separated from other diners not in their own groups. For employees: “If such distancing is not feasible, measures such as face covering, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, cleanliness, and sanitation should be rigorously practiced.” Furthermore, employers are to “consider” having all employees wear ideally non-medical grade face masks or at least cloth face coverings. (Note that masks are not required but encouraged.)
- A hand-sanitizing station must available for customers upon entry. Related: hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water or similar disinfectant has to be readily available to employees and customers.
- The guidelines encourage having an employee responsible for opening/closing the entrance door (“controlling the entrance”).
- Parties of dine-in patrons can be no larger than six.
- Nothing may be stored on tabletops, including condiments, napkin dispensers, glassware and utensils.
- Only single-use condiments (such as ketchup or mustard packages) may be served upon request; no common-use dispensers.
- Menus must be disposable.
- Buffets are allowed, but customers may not serve themselves. Restaurant employees must serve the food.
- Contactless payment (such as customers swiping their own credit cards) is encouraged. Otherwise, contact should be minimized and either way, customers should wash or sanitize their hands after payment.
- Employees must be trained on “appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.”
- Employees must be screened. Sick employees are not allowed on-site or must be sent home for certain symptoms. (See the full guide for the list of symptoms.) Customers are expected to self-screen for the same symptoms before going out in public.
- Employees who have had contact with someone who has COVID-19 may not come onsite until they have completed a 14-day self-quarantine period.
- Employees who have had COVID-19 may not return to work until at least three days after recovery, which includes no fever without fever-reducing medication and seven days without symptoms. Those who didn’t get diagnosed but have COVID-like symptoms should be assumed to be positive and meet the same criteria before returning to work. Any exception to the above must be approved in writing by a medical professional.
- Employees must wash or sanitize their hands before coming to work and between interactions with customers. Similarly, customers are expected to do the same upon entering the restaurant or after any interactions, whether with items, other customers or employees.
- Restroom cleanings are to be not only frequent, but documented.
- Regularly touched surfaces have to be frequently cleaned and disinfected, including doorknobs, tables, and chairs. The same goes for anything touched by customers (other than their food and drinks).
- Tables, chairs, stalls and countertops must be cleaned and sanitized after each group of diners leaves.
- “Readily visible” signage is required to remind everyone of these hygiene practices.
- In general, restaurants must be cleaned and sanitized daily.
In the coming days, please be mindful and kind to restaurant staff as they implement these new protocols. Not only are there numerous new procedures to adapt to but we are all still struggling through these difficult times dealing with anxiety over contracting COVID-19, reduced wages, finding child care and more. This crisis is not over yet. For the progress we have made to continue, we must all follow these guidelines and work together to fight the the spread of coronavirus.
Update 5/5/2020, 5:25 p.m.: The section on masks for employees was edited to correct that Abbott’s order does not “require” these.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.