Restaurants Prepare to Open Dining Rooms

Cargill CEO Dave MacLennan said yesterday that he is seeing “a subtle uptick” in food service orders at his 160,000-employee company for the first time since lockdowns began. MacLennan also assuaged fears about supply shortages and meatpacking facilities. “There’s enough food in the system for all,” he assured viewers. Today sealed that guarantee: President Trump signed a Defense Production Act ordering meat processing facilities to remain open.

“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Defense Production Act…” begins Trump’s executive order. “Under the delegation of authority provided in this order, the Secretary of Agriculture shall take all appropriate action under that section to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations.”

With the supply chain now stabilized, customers may continue ordering meat dishes for takeout or delivery. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue responded immediately, “I thank President Trump for signing this executive order and recognizing the importance of keeping our food supply chain safe, secure, and plentiful. Our nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain.”

New Guidelines for Reopening

The peak of active COVID-19 cases is expected in most states during early May. As owners assess their resources, governments are providing guidance for managing facilities and especially dining rooms when the lockdowns end. 

As a continuing priority, restaurant owners must always protect their customers and employees. Acting with an abundance of caution is the best path. For example, when Waffle House was faced with the question of whether to wipe plastic-covered menus after each customer visit, they opted for the safer option: disposable paper menus.

Loyal patrons are looking forward to returning. Tennessee is allowing limited service restaurants to resume sit-down service. Georgia allowed all restaurants to reopen on Monday. Customers are willing to travel for a moment of normalcy. “Road trip to Georgia this weekend. Can’t wait to have a steak and a micro-brew in a restaurant,” said Brad Johnson this morning. 

Texas is reopening restaurants on Friday. “We miss everyone and can’t wait to see you on Friday! We’re working hard to make our restaurants safe for you,” tweeted a Texan restaurant owner. “Friday Texas goes back to kind of normal,” says an anxious customer this morning. Ohio is planning to reopen within two weeks, and some brave diners in Alaska have already returned to dining rooms.


For restaurant owners looking for state-specific guidance, two official documents are their best guides. First, Texas’ protocol for restaurants can be accessed as a PDF here. Second, Georgia’s guidance for restaurants can be accessed here. Regardless of their location, all restaurants nationwide should follow these FDA regulations.

State governments will continue providing new rules daily for dining room safety. State guidance will supplement — never supersede — federal guidelines of food preparation and service.

Before the coronavirus, Americans on average ate five meals per week in restaurant dining rooms. For many, that number has fallen to zero. Now is the time to prioritize safety over ambiance. Patrons are rewarding restaurant owners who adapt to current conditions and reassure their safety. Customers happily excuse “off-brand” initiatives given the unique circumstances of the world. Restaurant workers should embrace the current opportunities to elevate their safety procedures.

Photo by Alex Robert on Unsplash

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