State by State Guide to Where and How Restaurants Are Opening

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Is it almost time for us to start going to restaurants again — sitting indoors like we used to, not huddled, bundled up, inside plastic huts on the sidewalk as diners in the colder regions of the country have sometimes been doing?

Probably not quite yet.

However, the development of new COVID-19 vaccines and improved distribution of existing ones is cause for optimism. So are tentative indications that infection levels, hospitalizations, and deaths are on a downward trajectory in many places, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Weekly Surveillance Summary of U.S. COVID-19 Activity.

Indeed, in response to this hopeful trend, at least some city and state governments around the country are beginning to ease up on restaurant restrictions, covering such issues as mask-wearing, social distancing, room occupancy, maximum table limits, and operating hours. (Needless to say, social distancing works. Here’s how fast COVID-19 was spreading in each state before and after social distancing.)

These restrictions vary widely from place to place, of course, and keeping track of them is difficult — especially since they tend to change frequently and since even official sources sometimes contradict one another on the particulars. In addition, individual establishments sometimes promulgate restrictions of their own — or, on the contrary, choose to flout mandates entirely.

In an effort to bring some clarity and consistency to coronavirus mitigation practices, the White House recently announced that “President Biden will direct the CDC to provide specific evidence-based guidance for how to turn the dial up or down relative to the level of risk and degree of viral spread in a community, including when to open or close certain businesses, bars, restaurants, and other spaces.”

In the meantime, one potential source of information on the observance of safety practices in restaurants is Yelp, which, since September, has encouraged businesses to add information about their COVID-19 measures to their review pages. As of Jan. 12, the site has also allowed users to publish feedback on just how well these establishments are enforcing rules designed to protect diners and staff alike. (These are the states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.)

24/7 Tempo has tracked mask mandates and restaurant-specific regulations, state by state, since October 2020. The information given here is up-to-date as of publication, but as noted, the situation is fluid, so it’s always worth checking with a restaurant before assuming that the information here is still in force.

To find information on each state’s limits for indoor dining capacity and table size, mask requirements, and other COVID-19-related protocols, 24/7 Tempo consulted the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center Official Return to Work State Guidelines for Foodservice Establishments (updated Dec. 16), the Coronavirus Restrictions and Mask Mandates for All 50 States published by the New York Times (updated Feb. 9), the List of Coronavirus-Related Restrictions in Every State (updated Feb. 9) published by the AARP and the same organization’s State-by-State Guide to Face Mask Requirements (updated Feb. 10), as well as coronavirus websites and the texts of executive orders from most of the states represented here.