ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Restaurants will be able to operate without restrictions in Florida, said Governor Ron DeSantis Friday as he announced the state would move to Phase 3 of reopening.
"Every business has a right to operate... you can’t just say no after six months and have people twisting in the wind,” DeSantis said in St. Petersburg.
In making the announcement, DeSantis said coronavirus survival rates were at 94 percent in the state, and that hospitalizations were down.
DeSantis also said all penalties or fines for refusing to wear masks will be suspended.
Phase 3 of Florida's Reopening Plan does suggest restaurants have some social distancing protocols and take sanitation precautions.
"Businesses should maintain adequate sanitation practices among employees and patrons during all hours of operation. Menus, if laminated, should continue to be cleaned after each usage. Paper menus shall be designed for single use and then disposed of immediately after use," the plan says.
But they will be able to operate at a minimum of 50 percent, regardless of any local government rules. They also can't be closed.
Among the other provisions of Phase 3 of Florida's reopening plan:
- People over 65 years of age and those with underlying health problems should continue to practice social distancing, but can resume public interaction.
- Businesses that have been teleworking because of the pandemic can resume unrestricted staffing at work sites.
- Employees can resume non-essential travel.
- Theme parks can return to normal operations, with limited social distancing protocols.
- Gyms and fitness centers can operate at full capacity.
- Bars, pubs and nightclubs that derive 50 percent of sales from alcohol can operate at full capacity with social distancing protocols.
- The new order affects restaurants, pubs and bars, however the governor pointed out that many of the other businesses in the state are already open .
Timing of DeSantis's Announcement Stuns Central Florida Business Owners
The owners of restaurants Townhouse in Oviedo and Too Much Sauce in downtown Orlando, and of Seaside Tavern in Ormond Beach were shocked by how quickly the announcement about the lifting of the restrictions came.
“I am surprised that he just lifted it, but . . . I am always excited when there is a change," Townhouse owner Leigh-Ann Tepper said, "Change is exciting.”
Too Much Sauce owner Evan Dimov said, "Full capacity, that is great news! That is fantastic."
Dimov added that he hopes more people will be willing to eat out now.
“We got a little busier at lunch, maybe because of the announcement, so every time good news comes out, people feel more comfortable and start coming back,” Dimov said.
While Dimov looks forward to welcoming more customers, he said he still wants to keep certain safety standards. He said he intends to keep measures like wearing face coverings, frequently changing gloves, and encouraging hand sanitizer. “Until they find a vaccine and everyone is back to normal, whatever normal is,” Dimov said.
While Tepper also is excited to bring in more customers, she said isn’t going to capitalize on the change right away.
“'For now, we are going to stick with what we are doing because staffing-wise we have to step it up this way,” she said.
Right now, the Townhouse is seating 50 percent of capacity, with signs showing where customers can sit.
Regular customers like Ben Jorde said they would not mind seeing more customers because safety precautions still are in place.
“I feel safe, yes I do,” Jorde said.
With the extra seating, Tepper said she is hoping that will bring a much-needed boost in sales.
“Just like every other business, our business is suffering," Tepper said. "I like to think we will rebound.”
Tepper still needs time to make changes to allow for more seating, but she said she could start implementing them by Monday.
Bar Owner: Industry Did Not Expect to Be Included Right Away
Seaside Tavern owner Patti Miracle said she did not expect bars to be included because they only were allowed to reopen less than two weeks ago after being closed down for most of six months.
“We really thought in our industry that they would let the restaurants go first and then bring us up after so to hear it was bars and restaurants across the board… yay!," Miracle said.
While she also plans on keeping her some of her increased cleaning protocols, no longer having to turn away customers is a big deal for her.
“You know, it's hard when you are needing the money. Even though we got to open, we are all having to make up either back rent or back bills so turning away any business is devastating,” Miracle said.
— Matt Fernandez and Nicole Griffin, Spectrum News 13