State issues guidelines for opening restaurants

By on May 19, 2020

Can hold up to 50% capacity, provide 6’ of separation


With expectations that Governor Roy Cooper will likely announce, perhaps as early as Wednesday, that North Carolina will move to Phase Two of easing COVID-19 restrictions when Phase One expires on May 22, here are some of the guidelines that the NC Department of Health and Human Services has provided for restaurants that are allowed to re-open for indoor dining.

The key elements of the guidelines allow up to 50% occupancy, require a six-foot separation between parties and recommend that the businesses provide face coverings for employees and customers and that they establish staggered seating times to the extent possible.

Here is a longer list that includes some, but not all, of the guidelines.

Interim Guidance for Restaurants (May 22, 2020)

Governor Cooper has implemented a three-phased approach to slowly lift restrictions while combatting COVID-19, protecting North Carolinians and working together to recover the economy.

When NC enters Phase 2, businesses and organizations should follow the guidelines below to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


Guidelines for Restaurants: Any place where people gather poses a risk for COVID-19 transmission. Restaurants should create and implement a plan to minimize that risk. The guidance below will help restaurants reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.


This guidance covers the following topics:

  • Social Distancing and Minimizing Exposure
  • Cloth Face Coverings
  • Cleaning and Hygiene
  • Monitoring for Symptoms
  • Protecting Vulnerable Populations
  • Combatting Misinformation
  • Water and Ventilation Systems
  • Additional Resources


Social Distancing and Minimizing Exposure

Social distancing is a key tool to decrease the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing (“physical distancing”) means keeping space between you and other people outside of your home. Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people; do not gather in groups; stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings. Phase 2 includes several requirements and recommendations to support social distancing in spaces where the public may gather.


Restaurants are required to:

  • Ensure social distancing by arranging tables and seating to achieve at least 6-foot separation between parties for indoor and outdoor dining. Each group of people sitting at a counter should be separated by six (6) feet.
  • Permit no more than 50% of maximum occupancy as stated in fire capacity. Restaurants may permit up to 12 people per 1,000 feet if there is not a fire code number available.
  • Post the reduced “Emergency Maximum Capacity” in conspicuous place.
  • Sign templates are available in English and Spanish on the NC DHHS COVID-19 response site.


Interim Guidance for Restaurants

  • Know Your W’s sign templates are available in English and Spanish on the NC DHHS COVID-19 response website.
  • Mark six (6) feet of spacing in lines at high-traffic areas for customers, such as any cash register or any place where customers wait to be seated


It is recommended that restaurants:

  • Allow no more than 6 people at a table unless they are a family from the same household. You do not need to ask whether groups are a family.
  • Don’t use shared tables among multiple parties unless the seats can be arranged to maintain social distancing between parties.
  • Require patrons to wait outside, with markings to ensure 6 feet apart, with floor markings and instructions for social distancing.
  • Provide hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) at the entrance when available.
  • Provide education to employees on how to properly wear, remove, and wash or dispose of face coverings.
  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions at cash registers, or other food pickup areas where maintaining physical separation of 6 feet is difficult.
  • Advise all waitstaff to stay 6 feet away from customers to the extent possible.
  • Advise all employees to stay 6 feet away from each other to the extent possible.
  • Stagger seating times to the extent possible by using reservation systems or other methods; rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of employees in the workplace at the same time
  • Consider alternative options to gathering lots of people in a small area, such as having people wait in their cars and alerting them by phone when their table is ready.
  • Staff meetings should be held virtually or provided by written notes instead of congregating.
  • Reduce condiments and other items on the table for use between customers; provide condiments by request only; or provide disposable condiment packs.
  • Continue to provide take-out, curbside pickup, and delivery options.
  • Use rolled utensils and discontinue preset table settings.
  • Continue to offer contactless payment options, curbside pickup, and delivery; if possible, use phone app technology to alert patrons when their table is ready to avoid use of pagers or buzzers.
  • Use touchless payment options as much as possible. Ask customers and employees to exchange cash or card payments by placing on a receipt tray or on the counter rather than by hand. Wipe any pens, counters, or trays between use and between customers with a disinfecting wipe.
  • Designate an ordering area at bars when wait staff are not available to visit each table. The ordering area should be at least 6 feet from other patrons seated at bar.


Cloth Face Coverings

  • It is strongly recommended that all employees and customers wear a cloth or disposable face covering when they may be near (less than 6 feet from) other people in the restaurant. A FAQ about face coverings is available in English and Spanish.
  • It is encouraged that businesses provide face coverings for employees and customers. If provided, they must be single use or properly laundered using hot water and a high heat dryer between use.


Recent posts in this category

Recent posts in this category


  • KHer

    I wonder how many Lawyers it took to write this restaurant rule book?

    Wednesday, May 20 @ 6:34 am
  • kdh back seat observer

    Key word – recommendations.

    I do not see the word mandatory anywhere.

    Wednesday, May 20 @ 9:58 am
  • Trashcan Man

    “Mandatory” may not appear, but “requirements” does. The first 4 bullets are requirements. The rest are indeed recommendations. If inspectors want to find a violation and make a restaurant owner miserable, they easily can do that.
    I would be concerned about the menus…..that is something that has always carried germs.

    Wednesday, May 20 @ 9:37 pm
Join the discussion