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S.C. restaurants can offer limited dine-in services

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Beginning today, S.C. restaurants will be allowed to reopen for limited dine-in services.

Establishments will have to follow several guidelines (.pdf), including only allowing 50% of posted occupancy and spacing tables six to eight feet apart. Additional cleaning and sanitizing guidelines, as well as additional health checks for employees, will also be implemented.

“As we gradually and methodically lift restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus, it is incumbent upon South Carolinians to follow to the guidance and recommendations provided by our public health experts to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said in a news release. “This virus still presents a serious threat to South Carolinians, but I have faith in the people of our state and their ability to act responsibly and in the best interest of the communities they live in.”

Last week, restaurants were allowed to resume outdoor dining services if they chose as McMaster lifted a ‘stay home or work’ order.

Motor Supply Co. Bistro opted then to continue with curbside-only offerings, and owner Eddie Wales said via text today that the Congaree Vista mainstay would stick with that plan through this week. Wales said restaurant staff will undergo safety training, and plans will be re-evaluated at the end of the week.

Jeb Babcock, a partner in the ownership group of Cantina 76 and Za’s on Devine, said Za’s has been offering patio service since May 5 and the Devine Street location of Cantina 76 has been doing so since May 6. The Main Street location of Cantina 76 doesn’t have enough space to make adhering to the distance guidelines feasible, he said.

The Cantina 76 location on Devine Street is offering outdoor dining and plans to phase in limited indoor dining later this week. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)Response to outdoor dining has been good, Babcock said, and the company will “slowly integrate” indoor dining later this week at around 25% seating capacity. The restaurants have a large supply of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, Babcock said, and extra staff in place to wipe down surfaces.

“It hasn’t been easy going from a full-service restaurant to takeout and then slowly going back into full service when you know this thing — we’re not fully past it yet,” he said. “You see a lot of the same faces that were coming to get to-go are now coming back. It’s a built-in patron base that’s been loyal and appreciative and understanding.”

Cantina 76 also has locations in the Upstate and the Lowcountry. Babcock said the Mount Pleasant restaurant is also offering patio service.

Tasting room and bottle shop Craft and Draft, which has locations in downtown Columbia on Devine Street and in Irmo, also decided not to open for sit-down service last week but is implementing a new outdoor seating policy beginning today.

“We decided to give it a week see what the big picture was going to look like,” co-owner Andrew Johnson said. “We try to be leaders. We try to be good examples in this industry, and it’s not always a good example or good leadership to be first. You want to do it right.”

Customers must fill out an online reservation form and will be allowed to stay for one hour, seated at tables spaced eight feet apart with a maximum of eight people per table. A server will bring beer to the tables (the Irmo location also serves sandwiches), and once patrons leave, staff will clean for half an hour before the next group arrives.

“There’s going to be a lot of clock-watching, which is something else we’re going to have to get used to,” Johnson said. “One of the things we don’t really do around here is watch the clock.”

Johnson, who said feedback about the decision hold off on offering sit-down services was mostly positive, said the outdoor-only option will continue for a week or two, with limited indoor services to follow if customers feel comfortable.

“Since day one, we’ve introduced something new and interesting,” said Johnson, who opened the Devine Street location with co-owner Kellan Monroe in 2014. “Things can still be new and interesting and exciting. A lot of times bad times can produce innovations. It’s just another way of introducing something else. … The circumstances aren’t ideal, but we can still enjoy beer with our friends and do it safely and do it responsibly.”

Dine-in restaurant services were banned on March 17 in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s change followed two weeks of meetings of accelerateSC, a group health care professionals, business representatives, local government officials, and education professionals created to develop a coordinated economic revitalization plan for the state.

McMaster also announced that all boating restrictions in the state have been lifted. 

Late Monday, McMaster announced that close-contact services providers including hair and nail salons and massage therapists, along with commercial gyms and public pools, will be able to open in a limited capacity on May 18.  

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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