Reopening RI: Outdoor Dining At Restaurants Starts May 18

Rachel Nunes

PROVIDENCE, RI — Following the successful first weekend of Rhode Island's reopening plan, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that she hopes to allow restaurants to offer outdoor seating one week from Monday. As is the case with all Phase One reopenings, restaurants will have to follow strict social distancing and cleaning guidelines.

"It's going to be different. We have to change the way we do things," Raimondo said. "We are trying to get things to be somewhat back to normal. But with different rules."

The Rhode Island Department of Health will publish a detailed list of regulations for business owners on the Reopening Rhode Island website on Monday night, Raimondo said.

"Reopening the economy doesn't mean the virus is going to go away," she continued. "The virus is here, to stay, probably for about a year until we have a reliable vaccine or a therapy."

Here's what customers can expect once outdoor dining is allowed.

  • Customers can only eat at restaurants by reservation only. No walk-ins will be allowed.
  • All customers will be required to provide their contact information when they make their reservation, for contract tracing purposes. Restaurants will be required to keep these logs for customers and employees for 30 days.
  • Parties will be limited to five people or fewer, per current social gathering limits.
  • Tables must be at least eight feet apart, or have barriers in between them.
  • Restaurants can have no more than 20 tables total.
  • Menus must be single-use paper, electronic, chalkboard or carefully sanitized between uses.
  • Restaurants must minimize the number of high-touch, communal items such as condiment bottles and silverware. These items are encouraged to be single-use and disposable.
  • Chairs and tables must be sanitized between uses.
  • Self-serve areas such as salad bars will be prohibited.
  • Cashless or no-contact payment methods are strongly encouraged.
  • Valet services will be prohibited.
  • Businesses must screen customers for symptoms.

The governor again reminded Rhode Islanders to stay home when they are sick. Anyone who has symptoms of any kind is asked to stay home until they are well.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, called the state's approach to outdoor dining a "very thoughtful, measured, public health focused approach." She encouraged residents to be "confident, not complacent," when going out in public.

The first weekend of Phase One reopening went well, Raimondo said. There were no reports of large gatherings at newly reopened state parks, though the unseasonably cold weather likely played a large role. Overall, businesses complied well with the new regulations, she said, though only about 70 percent of customers complied with the mask-wearing order, which needs to improve to effectively continue the safe reopening process, Raimondo said.

"I only want to open this reopen this economy once. I don't want it to be fits and starts. ... Take this in phases so we don't ever have to step back," Raimondo said. "My best advice is don't try to fight this. This virus is here. It is powerful. We don't have a vaccine. [We need to] adapt our way of doing things so we can live safely with the virus. Don't try to outrun it, because that won't work."

Over the weekend, Department of Business Regulation inspectors conducted checks of several hundred stores, Raimondo said, and will continue to do so throughout the reopening process. Similar inspections will be conducted at restaurants to make sure guidelines are being followed, she said, though the focus will be more on helping businesses meet regulations rather than punitive consequences.

In the coming weeks, the governor said she hopes to offer financial assistance to help small businesses recover.

"We definitely intend to use some of our COVID-relief fund to give a hand to some of our small businesses," she said.

Raimondo is expected to make an announcement about summer camps and youth sports later this week. The Centers For Disease Control just released guidelines for youth sports, Alexander-Scott said, which the state will use when drafting specific guidelines for Rhode Island.

Patch editor Scott Souza contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on the Cranston Patch