Photos show the strange new reality of dining out as restaurants like Waffle House and Cracker Barrel reopen dining rooms in some states

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New guidelines for restaurants include reduced capacity and stringent social distancing rules. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
  • Restaurants in some states across the country have been allowed to reopen their dining rooms.
  • While many have decided to keep dining rooms closed, some restaurants, like Waffle House and Cracker Barrel, have decided to reopen.
  • But the path to reopening isn’t straightforward – all states that have reopened have also put strict guidelines in place.
  • Here’s how the reopening process is going in the states that have loosened restrictions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some states have allowed restaurants to start reopening sit-down dining and that process may define the future of dining out for the rest of the country.

Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas were some of the first states to allow restaurants to reopen sit-down dining rooms. And while most restaurants in those states remain closed, others chose to reopen as soon as possible. Waffle House, known for its resilience in disaster situations, was one of the first chains to reopen locations in those states. IHOP, Chilli’s, Applebee’s, and Cracker Barrel are among the other chains that are reopening dining rooms, as well as countless independent restaurants.

And customers have been coming back. On April 26, a day before Georgia reopened, Applebee’s foot traffic in the state was down 85.84% compared to the same day last year, according to Placer.ai data reviewed by Business Insider. When Applebee’s reopened dining rooms in Georgia on April 27, foot traffic increased by 23.39%. On May 8, foot traffic was only down 44.24% compared to last year – a major success considering dining rooms in Georgia are only allowed to open at half capacity.

Still, the path to reopening isn’t straightforward. On May 1, over 120 Atlanta restaurant owners committed to keeping sit-down dining closed until they feel it’s safe to reopen. Some Georgia restaurant owners simply felt that opening under the new guidelines – which generally include reducing capacity and spacing out seating – would simply not be profitable. Others felt that even if they opened, customers wouldn’t come.

A Cracker Barrel spokesperson told Business Insider that there has been a positive response from guests so far, with reopened locations often full to their reduced capacity and with a wait. And a spokesperson for Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill, said that “some of our restaurants have had a significant wait for dine-in this week.”

From big chains to small businesses, here’s a look at how restaurant reopening across the country is going.


Georgia was the first state to allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms on April 27, and Waffle House was one of the first chains to jump at the chance to do so.

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Georgia’s new restaurant guidelines state that diners must be seated at least six feet away from other groups. Restaurants must cordon off booths and space out tables to maintain that distance.

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In addition, all restaurant workers must wear masks and gloves at all times.

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Cracker Barrel has resumed sit-down dining at 15 restaurants across Georgia and Tennessee.

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At Cracker Barrel, a team of executives visits and validates each store before it’s allowed to open, according to a spokesperson. As a result, only 17% of Cracker Barrel restaurants that are eligible to reopen their dining rooms have done so.

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The chain has added outdoor seating and created two new staff positions for pandemic-era dining.

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There’s now a dedicated staff member who greets guests at the porch and hands out masks, hand sanitizer, and flyers with coronavirus information. The greeter will also take customers’ numbers so they can wait in their cars to be seated.

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The chain is also hiring staff to clean high-touch surfaces and wipe down tables between diners. Its retail store has also been reorganized according to social distancing measures.

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In Brookhaven, Georgia, a J. Christopher’s restaurant remained relatively empty upon reopening on April 27.

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In addition to spacing out seating, J. Christopher’s featured visible signs of cleanliness — literal signs to indicate to customers which communal objects were clean.

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Moe’s Original BBQ in Atlanta, Georgia, also opened back up for dine-in service on April 27, but business was slow.

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Source:
Reuters


Moe’s guests were still able to get self-serve drinks from the soda fountain and tanks of iced tea.

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Tennessee allowed restaurants to reopen on April 27 as well. Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, a local chain, opened sit-down dining at several locations that day.

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Source:
Fox 17 Nashville


Restaurants are allowed to operate at 50% capacity and must create a six-foot social distance between seating areas.

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At half capacity, Puckett’s restaurants can generate at most 70% of their normal revenue, owner Andy Marshall told a Fox News affiliate. On average, revenue is much less.

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Source:
Fox 17 Nashville


For diners, signs closing off certain seating sections and encouraging social distancing are reminders that business is far from usual.

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Florida’s stay-at-home order lifted on Monday, and restaurants have opened up indoor and outdoor seating at 25% capacity. Foster Boop, the owner of Stuart Coffee in Stuart, Florida, said that patio seating has been popular with customers.

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Boop said that people have “definitely” been coming back, often bringing their work with them and hanging out for an hour or so. Stuart Coffee used to be a popular meeting place, but that aspect of the business has yet to return.

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Still, this level of operation isn’t profitable. “We can’t continue to have a business if this becomes the new norm,” Boop said.

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Rack’s Billiards in Sanford, Florida, also opened back up on Monday. Linda Jackson, a bartender at Rack’s, said that the restaurant’s stalwart crowd of regulars returned as soon as it opened.

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Jackson said that so far, she’s felt safe at work. “It’s been nice to see all our regular guys come in and just get a pizza and hang out,” Jackson told Business Insider.

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One of the billiard joint’s regulars is a pool player over the age of 80. “We’ve been following him around with Clorox wipes,” Jackson said.

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On May 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott loosened dining restrictions. Austin restaurant Cisco’s was one of a few restaurants to open.

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Source:
Austin360


Texas’s occupancy limit is 25%, but Texas is the only state where the capacity restriction doesn’t apply to outdoor seating areas.

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