NORFOLK, Va. — On May 15, most areas of Virginia entered "phase one" of Governor Ralph Northam's coronavirus reopening plan.
Under new restrictions, restaurants can start serving guests in-person again - but the seating has to be outdoors, and restaurants can only operate at half their normal capacity.
Localities in Hampton Roads are rushing to help restaurants establish outdoor seating, even if they didn't have it before the pandemic.
In all cases, restaurant staff needs to be wearing masks, party sizes can't be more than 10 people and tables need to be at least six feet away from each other. Restaurants also need to comply with ABC regulations if they serve alcohol outside.
Local governments are hammering out other rules, though. Here's how a few of them are getting eateries up to speed.
According to a new city ordinance, restaurants can set up outdoor seating without any documentation from the city, as long as it's on private property.
Temporary tents can also be set up over dining areas on private property, but there are special rules for permits, size and seating under these tents. You can read more here.
The City of Williamsburg is allowing restaurants that already have outdoor seating to expand into streets and sidewalks, as long as certain requirements are met:
- The public thoroughway has to stay open.
- Emergency access can't be interrupted.
- Restaurants get special event permits.
Restaurants are also allowed, under city rules, to set up seating areas in their parking lots, as long as they establish barriers to protect patrons. City Staff is responsible for deciding how much of the parking area needs to stay available for cars.
On May 28, the city said parts of Prince George Street, between Armistead Avenue and North Boundary Street, and between North Boundary Street and North Henry Street, would be converted to one-lane roads so restaurants could use the space to set up outdoor seating and pick-up areas.
Williamsburg is also establishing seating areas in Duke of Gloucester street for patrons to sit, no matter where they purchased food from. This seating area will open at dawn and close by 10 p.m.
The City of Chesapeake is opening up an expedited process for free, temporary outdoor seating permits.
Restaurants can apply from the city's COVID-19 website, under the "business" section.
Outdoor seating cannot interrupt fire lanes or handicap parking in Chesapeake.
A message from the city said Hampton government officials understand there's not many places restaurants for restaurants to add outdoor seating, so it will be closing part of Queens Way and Mellen Street to open up outdoor dining areas.
Restaurants will still need to get temporary outdoor dining permits from the city. They're free, and can be found on the city's website. In its initial announcement, a spokesperson for Hampton expected quick results for applicants.
The message urged other restaurants, even if they're not on those specific roads, to ask their landlords for opportunities to use sidewalks and outdoor shopping areas to offer outdoor dining.