Restaurants scramble to re-open in most of Florida

Posted at 4:25 PM, May 02, 2020

MIAMI — As restaurants in many Florida cities prepare to reopen on Monday under new pandemic rules set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, officials in some counties say a patchwork of state regulations makes implementing the guidelines difficult.

Restaurants in all but three South Florida counties can reopen inside dining rooms at 25% capacity. Outside areas are limited only by social distancing guidelines -- tables 6 feet apart, with no parties of more than 10 people.

Some businesses are already asking local officials for expansion of outdoor seating. In Lee County, for example, officials are allowing restaurants to place tables and seating in areas not previously allowed, such as parking lots. The relaxing of those rules will remain in effect until five days after restaurants are able to operate at 100% capacity per the governor, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.

Even those Lee County restaurants that have kept serving through the pandemic have reported losses of 90% or more since the governor ordered dining rooms to close March 20.

"It's so hot. Most people don't want to be outside much right now," said Betsy Barnwell, owner of Farmers Market Restaurant in Fort Myers, told the newspaper. "But it's something. We've got to start somewhere."

Nadine Tarpley, who owns Oh Sooo Jazzy Salon outside Orlando, plans to stagger clients so there's never more than one at a time. Instead of having customers congregate inside before their appointments, they'll have to wait outside and be notified via text when to walk in.

She's also ordered dozens of hand sanitizers, disposable capes and masks in case customers forget to bring their own. And she's reserving Sundays and Mondays for elderly clients and people with underlying health conditions.

"My phone is ringing off the hook and it's from my elderly clients," said Tarpley. "We love our clients. They are like an extended portion of our family. We want to keep them safe."

Mary Chau said she wrote an extensive training protocol with new precautions for receptionists, nail technicians and other workers, saying training will be key to reopening her M.C. Spa and Nail Bar under the new normal.

DeSantis met with several salon owners near Orlando on Saturday, saying small things like being able to get a haircut will give people confidence about venturing out as a step toward a healthy society.

"Most of the jobs are connected to smaller businesses so we absolutely have to keep them going," he said.

In the Panhandle, Jennifer Parnell, spokesperson for the Flora-Bama Yacht Club in Perdido Key, says they can't wait serve oysters and the bar's signature Bushwhacker (a frozen milk-based cocktail with five types of liquor) on Monday.

"It's a new time for everybody and we're trying to figure it out," she said.

The solution, for now, is to expand the seating area onto the sandy beach, and keep tables on two outdoor seating areas in the main lounge. There will also be limited seating across the street at two other sit-down restaurants. The marina and liquor store are also open.

"We are in a unique position," she said, noting that the bar is just feet from the Alabama state line. We "operate under Florida law. Florida is saying no condos can be rented, but restaurants can be open. In Alabama, condos can be rented, but no restaurants are open."

It's all an attempt to drag Florida's dismal economy back toward pre-coronavirus levels. More than 800,000 people have filed for unemployment in the state since the crisis began, many of them service workers or tourism industry employees.

Then there's Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. They are excluded from DeSantis' recent order because newly recorded coronavirus infections are still surging in those places.

In Miami, eager boaters started camping out Friday night for a chance to get into Blackpoint Marina to launch their boats on Saturday. The Miami Herald reports hundreds were turned away when the marina reached capacity before noon Saturday.

Florida has about 35,000 confirmed cases of the virus, resulting in more than 1,360 deaths, according to the state Department of Health on Saturday.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Pinellas County Commissioners and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri expressed frustration with the way DeSantis issued the orders. The county's administrator and Gualtieri spent five hours on Thursday working to interpret the sometimes vague rules.

The governor's order said retail and store-front businesses can reopen, but only if the local government allows it. They tried to approve as many as possible, including car washes and mobile dog groomers, the sheriff said.

"We're trying to make everything we can with this bucket of mud," Gualtieri told the paper. "Mobile dog groomers, go for it. Please, go get your dog washed."


Lush reported from St. Petersburg.