Updated on May 21, 2020.
File: James Buck
The old days, at Spot on the Dock in Burlington
Restaurants in Vermont can open for outdoor dining starting Friday, according to guidelines released Wednesday by state officials.
Gov. Phil Scott closed the state's eateries on March 17, though he allowed them to continue takeout, curbside and delivery service. Wednesday's decision to allow outdoor dining on-site is the latest step in reopening the state's businesses.
The update to Vermont’s “Be Smart, Stay Safe” order
includes certain stipulations: Restaurants must use disposable menus, and a reservation or “call-ahead seating” system; tables must be at least 10 feet apart; takeout service, as opposed to table service, is preferred; and the maximum number of diners seated at one time can be 50 people or the licensed seating capacity, whichever is less.
, located at the high-traffic corner of College and Church streets in Burlington, can seat 50 people outdoors, chef-owner Donnell Collins told Seven Days
Wednesday night. But with tables spaced 10 feet apart, Leunig’s can accommodate 18 to 20 customers, Collins said.
“I can’t support 95 people with 20 seats,” she said, referring to the size of her staff. “It’s just not gonna happen.”
Collins said she will “absolutely not” be open for outdoor dining on Friday. She said she can’t make preparations in 48 hours to open under the new guidelines and ensure the safety of her staff and customers.
“I’m not going to do anything to put my staff in harm’s way or my customers,” Collins said. “The one thing I have learned in the last two weeks of doing takeout is how much the community missed us. As a business owner, I have a responsibility to give that back to them. I don’t want to make people feel unsafe; I don’t want them to be unsafe.”
She expects it will take about a week to prepare for reopening, including cleaning, setting up appropriately spaced outdoor seating and considering what furniture to use.
Joey Nagy, co-owner of four Mad Taco
restaurants, said earlier Wednesday — before the state announced the May 22 opening date — that he would not open his restaurants for dining for the foreseeable future.
Three of his four restaurants — in Waitsfield, Middlebury and Essex — have space for outdoor dining. But service is takeout only. Diners pick up their food and drink outside the restaurant and can take it to picnic tables set up nearby, Nagy said. No customers are allowed in the door.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of controlling [the coronavirus] and I don’t see a way to open a restaurant or bar safely,” Nagy said. “I’m in no rush.”
Tim Lahey, an infectious disease physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center and professor of medicine at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, wrote in an email to Seven Days on Thursday morning that the guidelines are “very helpful and aligned to CDC guidance.”
He noted two topics — wearing a mask and safety precautions for restaurant workers — that were not mentioned in the state's guidelines.
“I’m guessing [mask-wearing] is subsumed under general advice to wear a mask in public,” Lahey wrote.
He went on to say that restaurant workers “need physical distancing protections in the kitchen … which will be a challenge. We’ll see how this goes — bringing groups of up to 50 together is a risk so we’ll have to be nimble and willing to pull back if local epidemiology suggests we have to.”
Opening restaurants for outdoor business is the latest in a series of phased business reopenings as efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus have been largely successful.
Last Friday, in announcing the planned reopening of lodging facilities, Scott said that Vermont had the lowest three-day and seven-day growth-rate in the nation
Retail stores were allowed to reopen
under certain conditions on Monday, but some businesses opted to stick with curbside sales.
The guidelines for opening restaurants for outdoor seating are:
- Reservations or call ahead seating is required.
- Ordering via phone or electronic means is preferred.
- Takeout service rather than table side delivery of food is preferred.
- Cashless/touch-less transactions are strongly preferred.
- Tables must be spaced a minimum of 10 feet apart.
- Members of only 2 households and 10 total people may be seated at the same table.
- Operators must limit the total number of customers served/seated at one time to 50 or their maximum licensed seating capacity, whichever is less.
- Disposable menus are required.
- Disposable/single use condiment packets are encouraged. Multi-use condiments and all other items for general use must be cleaned and sanitized between customers.
- Operators must maintain an easily accessible log of customers and their contact information for 30 days in the event contact tracing is required by the Health Department.