Restaurants reopen as restrictions ease

OKEECHOBEE — On June 5, most of the state of Florida moved into phase two of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s reopening plan.

The move to phase two allowed bars and pubs to operate at 50 percent capacity inside, full capacity outside with appropriate social distancing, and gyms and retail locations to begin operating at full capacity.

After operating strictly on takeout service throughout most of the lockdown, restaurants are able to now serve customers dining inside. During phase two, restaurants are also allowed to offer bar-top serving so long as customers follow social distancing.

Previously, restaurants had partially reopened on May 4, at 25 percent capacity indoors providing the restaurants followed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

Those CDC recommendations are still place, and restaurant owners and employees are putting in the extra time to keep the dining experience safe for their customers.

“In our industry our world has been flipped upside down,” said Parrot Island co-owner Patty Suarez. “The workload was always heavy to make sure every customer received exceptional service. Now it just adds onto that tenfold.”

Even though dining in is now an option, Nutmegs owner Megan Hardy Mattson says many customers are still using takeout when they order. Nutmegs has two locations in the area, one in Okeechobee and another in Sebring.

“We definitely are still doing more takeout than dine-in,” explained Mrs. Mattson. “I have removed some of the tables from both stores and spread them out. Really the only thing that’s different for us now is increased sanitation of doorknobs, handles and bathrooms. We set timers to help us remember to stop and do it throughout the day.”

Phase two of the reopening plan calls for establishments to operate at no more than 75 percent of building capacity, with appropriate social distancing and a minimum of 6 feet separating parties. Once the state enters phase three, establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols in place. In phase three, extra sanitation measures, including either providing disposable paper menus or disinfecting laminated menus after each use, would stay in place.

Fast food franchises have increased their safety measures as well as the state reopens. Taco Bell has instituted contactless service and payment in their drive-thru. Cash transactions are handled contact-free using a sanitized tray, while for credit and debit transactions, the cashier holds the payment terminal out the drive-thru window for customers to insert their own card. The terminal is sanitized after every use. Orders are handed out the window on a sanitized tray. Customers then take their order off of the tray, ensuring that no contact is made with the cashier. At no point does the cashier handle the bagged or boxed food, which is sealed once it is complete.

“The safety of our team members and guests remains our top priority as we continue implementing new ways of engaging and operating amid this rapidly changing health crisis,” said Taco Bell President Mike Grams. “We are incredibly proud of our team members across the country who are working hard to implement these changes.”

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