WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County intends to restrict the hours that restaurants can serve food and alcohol to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker said Tuesday that she would issue an executive order prohibiting food and alcohol services for on-site consumption at establishments between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Businesses like amusement parks, banquet halls and hookah lounges will also be forced to close during those hours, Baker said.
Takeout and delivery services are not impacted by the new order, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
The order is part of an effort by county commissioners to curtail after-hours gatherings at dining establishments.
"I believe strongly that if these establishments that are having these parties after hours are, in fact, the cause of the spike in cases, that we need to have enforcement that's a lot stronger," Commissioner Hal Valeche said.
Valeche said he wasn't sure about imposing "draconian-type fines" but believes establishments in violation of state and county orders should receive more than a "slap on the wrist."
"Because a lot of these businesses, if it's a couple-of-hundred-dollar fine, they'd consider it a cost of doing business and they continue to violate the law, so I think there needs to be a law enforcement presence, not a code enforcement presence," Valeche said.
Valeche also said he believes Sheriff Ric Bradshaw would be "quite aggressive" about pursuing violators.
Mayor Dave Kerner added that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is "empowered at a higher level to do some regulatory enforcement, including but not limited to revoking of the liquor license on the spot for overt violations."
However, he did say that the county is transitioning from education of the law to enforcement.
Baker said she's working on modifying the county ordinance to include more severe fines for violators.
"They're putting us all in danger," she said.
Rocco's Tacos owner Rocco Mangel told WPTV he believes there is a misconception that people are flocking to dine-in restaurants.
"I don't know anything about it, but I think what they're trying to do is control the younger crowd later on at night from gathering," Mangel said.
Mangel said his downtown West Palm Beach restaurant has already adjusted its hours, closing at midnight. He believes an 11 p.m. cutoff doesn't give restaurants enough time to get late diners out the door.
"The problem is if they come in at 10 o'clock, we have to let somebody know, 'Hey, you have to be out of here in 45 minutes and you have to wrap up your meal,' which is not really hospitable," Mangel said.