Texas is open for business, y’all. In March of 2021, nearly a year after the first county-mandated restaurant shutdowns in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order stating that the state was lifting all restrictions related to Covid-19, provided that counties weren’t experiencing “high hospitalizations” due to the disease.
If you’re operating a restaurant in the great state, you’re going to want to keep an eye on what your particular county requires. Restaurants have been open since May 2020, with some reductions in the summer of 2020 as Covid cases spiked. Texas bars have been permitted to operate at 50% capacity since the fall.
But nothing simple when coming back from a hiatus because of the pandemic. As you get your establishment back up and running, we’ve got Texas-specific resources to make it as smooth as possible.
Very early on in the pandemic, Texas allowed its restaurants to operate their outdoor dining at full capacity. Did that leave room for proper social distancing on patios? The governor couldn’t quite say, exactly, but with that, the state’s restaurants were truly up and running.
So here’s where to start. The state’s general page for business openings has breakouts for food/beverage establishments where it has issued checklists for its restaurants and for its bars, as well as single-page fliers for restaurant customers and bar patrons (suitable for laminating and posting).
The main takeaways are what you’d expect from a state that regards open space as a cure-all. Groups need to stay 6 feet apart from one another. You shouldn’t leave flatware or place settings out in the open air. Everything needs to be kept clean, and when possible, separated. And your staff — really, absolutely everyone — needs to stay home if they think they might be sick.
The key these days is keeping up with what your local county has to say, based largely on the local positive tests and hospitalizations. For its reputation as the home of country culture, Texas is also a deeply urban state, with five separate counties home to a million-plus people. So if you’re repping Houston, check the multi-lingual latest in Harris County. For those in Dallas, scope Dallas County. Next door in Fort Worth, you should check Tarrant County. San Antonio, you’re looking for Bexar County regs. And anyone in Austin, stay hip on the latest in Travis County, where enterprising bar owners have invited food trucks to serve on-premises, to avoid mandatory bar closings.
A very handy catch-all for your reopening is the Texas Restaurant Association’s pandemic directory. You need, what, Covid testing? New vinyl signs? Automated kiosks? Not a prob, they’ve got the works.
Strap in and get ready to apply for your share of the federal dollars that will flow through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). If you haven’t gotten started, do that pronto. It takes a few days to get set up in the federal payment system, and it’s a first-come, first-serve deal.
The Texas Restaurant Relief Fund may be able to offer smaller grants to help you keep your doors open and to keep paying your staff. It’s worth reaching out.
Your particular city or county may also have some grants. Bexar County, for one, has doled out hospitality grants to help local small businesses. If you’re struggling, reach out to your local hospitality agency or to the Texas Restaurant Association chapter in your area.
By now the bulk of what you need to do will start to seem intuitive. For starters, though, you need to assign someone to come up with a written plan, and someone to be responsible for putting that plan in action.
Dallas County directs restaurateurs to the guidelines put forth by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, which in a nut recommend that owners make sure employees can stay physically distanced from each other and customers; sit as many people outside as you can; cover and clean surfaces and dishes; provide PPE to your staff; and monitor employee wellness, even more than usual. (If anyone needs a primer on self-diganosis, the CDC’s possible Covid symptoms guide is clutch.)
There are a ton of other details, of course, and you should sweat those, too. If you want to model your policy updates after a state that went granular with its recommendations, check out our guide to reopening a restaurant in California.
One big shift that you and your staff will need to work out: What is protocol once someone has to stay home with a live or suspected case of Covid. To that end, federal sick-leave policy has changed around Covid, and the Department of Labor has a flyer explaining the updates to you and to your workers.
The Texas Restaurant Association has a handy one-pager that you can post in view of staff and customers that it calls The Texas Restaurant Promise. It reminds everyone what the restaurant will be doing differently (largely, cleaning like mad) and conscripts guests to use some basic common sense as well — not mingling between parties, not coming in if they feel sick, and not giving the staff any hassle for enforcing the new rules.
On its site, the National Restaurant Association has made an entire course of Covid safety videos available, in Spanish as well as in English, to orient your staff around the new best practices.
OK! That was an incredible amount of work! Now the fun begins — greeting and feeding people. Some of your digital marketing should take into account the trepidation that some guests will be feeling. Texas has taken a seemingly more cavalier approach to the pandemic than other states, and things that seem obvious elsewhere (simply wearing a mask, to pick one example) became touchier subjects to some Texas patrons.
Naturally you’re going to have to use your best judgement, but it’s hard to go wrong if you’re centering the experience on comfort, safety, service, and excellent food and drink. Everyone is open to that.