Restaurants Grapple with State and Local COVID-19 Orders

March 19, 2020

The restaurant industry is being challenged by statewide closures and restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Governors in nearly two thirds of the United States have issued various forms of closure edicts. In most instances, restaurants have been ordered to close their dining rooms, allowing only carry-out, drive-thru or curbside pick-up. Mayors of some major U.S. cities where there are currently no statewide mandates are taking similar actions at a local level (e.g. Dallas, Miami, St. Louis, Kansas City).

From a practical standpoint, the mechanics of these orders can be difficult to reconcile for restaurants with locations across multiple states. Some orders are very detailed. For instance, the order from Michigan’s Governor prohibits restaurants, food courts, cafes and coffee houses, among other establishments, from allowing food and beverage consumption on a restaurant’s premises. The order exempts pick-up orders, permitting up to five members of the public to enter a restaurant for the purpose of picking up food, so long as those individuals are at least six feet apart from one another. The Governor of Illinois similarly ordered restaurants to suspend services for on-premises consumption, while permitting and encouraging delivery, drive-through and curbside pick-up. The order in Illinois provides that customers may enter the premises to purchase food or beverages for carry-out. Other orders are less instructive. New York’s Governor, for example, ordered restaurants and bars to serve food and beverages for off-premises consumption only, without any particular guidance on what that should look like.

Some local orders are particularly restrictive. Summit County, Utah ordered restaurants to bar customers from entering their establishments, permitting only curbside takeout if employees deliver food to customers through their car window. Cash payments in Summit County are discouraged and restaurant employees who take cash or credit card payments must use cleansing measures between each transaction. In the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Franklin County, all businesses that offer food or beverages for on-premises consumption must implement social distancing measures (e.g., reducing the number of employees and customers in one room) and all restaurants must serve customers only through delivery, carry-out or a drive-through.

The patchwork of rules can make compliance challenging, especially for restaurants with a national footprint. If you have questions regarding compliance, please reach out to one of the attorneys listed here. We have been closely following this changing landscape. 

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Lewis Rice has formed a COVID-19 Task Force which brings together subject matter authorities from various practice areas within the Firm who stand ready to assist our clients as they navigate these challenging and evolving issues. We will continue to monitor the myriad of legal and other developments that may impact our clients. If you have other legal questions related to COVID-19, please reach out to one of the authors here or a member of the Task Force.