Dining in again

Authorities issue guidelines for restaurants

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

STATE — As restaurants reopen their dining rooms, state authorities have issued guidelines intended to keep customers and employees safe and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster announced that restaurants throughout the state would be allowed to reopen for limited dine-in services beginning on Monday. His announcement followed two weeks of meetings by accelerateSC, the group tasked with developing a coordinated economic revitalization plan.

McMaster announced Monday that some close contact businesses such as barbershops and gyms will be able to reopen next week.

“As we gradually and methodically lift restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus, it is incumbent upon South Carolinians to follow the guidance and recommendations provided by our public health experts to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” McMaster said Friday. “This virus still presents a serious threat to South Carolinians, but I have faith in the people of our state and their ability to act responsibly and in the best interest of the communities they live in.”

Both the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association gave input to accelerateSC regarding the guidelines, issued by McMaster as part of his announcement.

The SCRLA’s eight-page guidelines document is available on the Newsroom section of

The guidelines are divided into different focuses, including restaurant dining rooms, food safety, employee safety and customer safety.

“Prior to reopening, it is critical that every restaurant intending to reopen evaluate their inventory, review their food safety certification and procedure to ensure they can open in compliance with S.C. food safety regulations, and do a deep re-clean and sanitize the entire restaurant facility using the CDC-recommended guidelines during COVID-19,” the document said.

Restaurants should only allow 50 percent of posted occupancy inside, as determined by fire marshals, the guidelines said. No more than eight customers should be seated at a table.

“Do not allow groups of people to order drinks and stand around to consume. Customers should be seated to ensure proper distancing and the safety of all guests,” the guidelines said.

Tables should be spaced six to eight feet apart, to keep diners at least six feet apart from other tables. If that’s not possible, seat tables in rotation or block seats.

“Provide hand sanitizers at all entry doors — touchless is preferred if availability permits,” the document said. “At your main entrance, provide a cleaning station with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues and a trash can for visitors.”

Use sanitizing solutions to clean tables, chairs, check presenters and condiment fixtures after each seating. Use paper menus or sanitize menus after each use.

Condiments such as salt, pepper, ketchup, etc. should be removed from tables and provided to diners upon request.

Utensils should be placed on tables only after patrons are seated and should be disposable, single-use utensils if possible.

“During routine business hours, frequently and thoroughly clean and disinfect all frequently touched objects within the dining and customer areas (doorknobs, cabinet handles, handrails, light switches, kitchen counters, dining room tables),” the guidelines said.

The entire facility should be deep cleaned and disinfected at leave five times per week, during non-operational hours.

Food safety guidelines include having staff wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, discard those gloves when cleaning and disinfecting is completed and properly wash their hands immediately after removing the gloves.

Restaurants should also thoroughly disinfect every table, chair/booth, utensil, glass, and surface the guest has contacted, and sanitizer or other disinfectants should be readily available to all employees and guests.

For buffet and self-service stations, staff should dispense food cafeteria-style, or those areas/stations should be discontinued to prevent physical contamination and customers reusing service utensils.

Employee safety focus recommendations include having physical barriers such as Plexiglas between employees and customer when possible for counter service ordering, food pick up areas and host stands.

Staff members should have their temperature taken before their shift. Any staff member who indicate COVID symptoms, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone diagnosed should immediately be excluded from their shifts.

All employees handling food should wear gloves.

Employees should be allowed to wear gloves and masks if they wish to, even those in front-of-the-house positions and in restaurant environments when a six-foot social distancing area in the kitchen and/or front counter area would be difficult to maintain.

Customer safety focus recommendations include discontinuing services allowing customers to fill or refill their own beverage cups, such as coffee cups or growlers.

“Plan ahead of time for a circumstance in which you’ll need to expedite a guest’s exit from your restaurant,” the guidelines said. “Be prepared to put guests in touch with medical resources.”