Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced new rules Sunday for restaurants and bars that continue to operate while the city is under a state of emergency. The news comes just as big names in D.C.’s restaurant scene, including José Andrés, Danny Meyer, and David Chang announce temporary closures of their restaurants.

Additionally, there is a new petition circulating calling on Bowser to mandate the closure of bars and restaurants. Many District residents are continuing to frequent bars and restaurants despite calls for social distancing to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases that have the potential to overwhelm hospitals. Nightlife corridors weren’t at their usual capacity last night, City Paper observed, but there were plenty of patrons. 

The following new rules are being put in place to help restaurants comply with DC Health’s prohibition of gatherings of more than 250 people announced Friday and the general goal of increasing social distancing: 

  • Ensure that no more two hundred and fifty (250) people are present in the space at the same time
  • Suspend the use of bar seating
  • Suspend service to standing patrons
  • Limit individual table seating to six (6) persons or less
  • Ensure that tables (including booths) that are occupied by patrons are separated by at least six (6) feet of distance
  • Venues licensed as nightclubs or multi-purpose event facilities must suspend operations

Michelin-starred restaurant Tail Up Goat and its sister restaurant, Reveler’s Hour, became the first two restaurants Sunday to actually call on the mayor’s office to shut down all restaurants: “We need strong governmental action to survive this pandemic with our businesses intact,” the restaurants posted on Instagram. “That is why we are urging the mayor to #shutusdown. Doing so properly acknowledges the scale of the current crisis and begins to make available the kind of resources our employees and businesses will require to endure this financial storm.”

The owners don’t feel like the above measures make it possible to operate profitably nor properly enforce social distancing. “For the time being, we will be offering carry out to ensure that we qualify for any public assistance made available to restaurants forced to close. But we believe that given the scale of this pandemic, that is only a temporary fix. We know that early intervention saves lives, and we’ve already waited too long. We urge our elected leaders to act decisively so that once this historic crisis passes—as it will—we can resume our rightful role at the heart of our communities.”

There is a very important D.C. Council meeting on Tuesday where councilmembers will consider emergency legislation aimed at helping both workers staring down unemployment and possibly issuing grant support to small businesses.

In the meantime, some restaurants are scrambling to find ways to reach customers in new ways that don’t involve dining including take-out and delivery. Others are using their wholesale connections to sell goods that may be sold out at grocery stores such as milk and toilet paper.

There are other ways to support the local restaurant industry that don’t involve dining out or even ordering take-out, including buying gift certificates, purchasing merchandise like t-shirts, and signing up for “house accounts” that give restaurants an infusion of cash. 

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) together with Hook Hall have started a fund to help service workers pay for supplies and meals.

Other cities, including New York, are also grappling with whether to close restaurants and bars during the public health crisis. Ohio, Illinois, and Massachusetts have all closed bars and restaurants for on-premise consumption. Take-out and delivery is still permissible in those states. Across the Atlantic, Italy, France, and Spain have closed their restaurants.

City Paper is tracking all closures, including restaurants and bars, here.

Bowser has a history of supporting restaurant operators. RAMW and restaurant owners are likely in her ear as we speak. City Paper will monitor any further moves by the mayor’s office and has requested comment on potentially shutting down bars and restaurants and how these new rules will be enforced.