When Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order July 10, stating the city would go back a step to Phase I of its reopening plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was just another case of confusion for restaurants statewide, the Georgia Restaurant Association’s leader said.
“The inconsistencies of different municipal orders, which may be difficult to enforce, have created much confusion for small businesses that are already struggling to regain dine-in guests and to reemploy the thousands of workers displaced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Karen Bremer, the association’s CEO, said in a statement released in response to the mayor’s order.
Bottoms defended the decision by saying it was needed following a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, but Gov. Brian Kemp issued his own statement saying state laws supersede municipal ones, adding her order was “merely guidance.” That allowed owners who may have believed their restaurant must close due to the mayor’s order to stay open, especially dine-in service.
“When (Bottoms’) order was issued on Friday, it was total chaos because people were going into Friday night with reservations and saying, ‘We have to shut down and cancel these,’” Bremer said in an interview.
She said Atlanta is just one of countless municipalities across the state that have enacted their own policies on reopening amid the outbreak, so restaurateurs elsewhere have also been perplexed in what she called “a slow, painful, confusing recovery” from the virus crisis.
“(It’s) confusing in that we have conflicting directions from municipalities versus the state,” she said. “Restaurants are supposed to be following the state guidelines, but municipalities are coming up with their own guidelines. We also have CDC, FDA, Georgia Department of Health guidelines. Those are all consistent.”
Robby Kukler is a partner with Fifth Group Restaurants, which owns nine eateries in the city of Atlanta, including three at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He said the mayor’s order created a “pretty confusing” situation, but Fifth Group has also been flummoxed by the difference in rules between the federal, state and local governments.
“All of us as individuals and private citizens and business owners have been frustrated on a state and federal level in that there’s not consistency on how this is addressed,” Kukler said. “The fact that it came out on a Friday made it tough.
“Right now we’re following the guidelines of the (association) and requesting the mayors across our state and the governor get some succinct and consistent guidelines for everybody. We follow the CDC guidelines and quite a bit more. All of our staff wear masks and now all of our guests are required to wear masks.”
Bremer said just over half of every food dollar in Georgia is spent at restaurants. The state has, in addition to allowing restaurants to first reopen with takeout and/or delivery service before later adding dine-in service, permitted them to even sell beer and wine as takeout/delivery items for the eateries that still have not reopened their dining rooms.
That move to help struggling restaurants required individual executive orders in all municipalities in the state’s 159 counties, Bremer said. Also, a new state law (House Bill 879), approved June 25, will allow restaurants and grocery and liquor stores to deliver alcoholic beverages to consumers. But even after Kemp signs it into law, each municipality first must pass it via a referendum vote.
Bremer said the association has posted to its website a “guide to reopening a restaurant” to help owners avoid any confusion. Also, so far about 500 of the state’s nearly 19,000 eateries have signed the governor’s Georgia Safety Promise program, in which businesses can pledge to the public they will operate with all the necessary health and safety precautions in place.