DC Restaurants and Bars Can Open Outdoor Seating on Friday

No more than six people can be seated together, and all tables must be at least six feet apart.

Photo by Evy Mages
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DC restaurants, bars, and other food establishments can open their outdoor patios with limited capacity beginning Friday, May 29 after nearly 11 weeks of being shutdown for dine-in service. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in a press conference today that city has reached 14 days of sustained decline in community spread of the Covid-19 virus, one of the key factors in beginning a phased reopening.

In phase one—or as Bowser calls it, “stay at home light”—all diners must place their orders and be served while sitting at tables. No more than six people can be seated together, and all tables must be at least six feet apart. Businesses can continue to offer food and drinks for takeout as well.

Establishments are “encouraged,” though not required, to take reservations in order to avoid crowding nearby. They’re also “encouraged” to keep customer logs to help the health department with contact tracing.

“We kind of leave to them what they are collecting. I think largely what they collect for reservations would be enough,” Bowser says. “It’s not something we want to be overly intrusive or administratively burdensome. What restaurants would want to know is how to get in touch with people who were there.”

The mayor’s reopening task force recommended last week that only so-called “restaurants” be included in the phase one reopening, leaving a lot of confusion about what exactly qualifies as a restaurant. The final guidelines are much broader, including taverns, nightclubs, and mixed-use facilities that serve food and are approved by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration for outdoor service.

For businesses that aren’t permitted for outdoor seating, the city is working on new policies for use of public space. “We’re launching a process to reimagine sidewalks, roads, and other spaces for restaurants, retail, and recreation,” Bowser says. More specifics will be released on Friday.

Bowser was fuzzy, however, about whether establishments can reopen rooftops or back patios where customers must walk through the space (though customers can use indoor bathrooms).

“I don’t want to speak to the rooftops just yet because I want to confirm where we are with that or if we’ve been silent on that,” Bowser says, later adding, “We’re going to get some clarity around that.”

UPDATE: The Mayor’s office now says rooftops, back patios, and beer gardens that previously had a permit can operate starting Friday.

DC will join Northern Virginia in reopening outdoor dining space on Friday. Under Governor Ralph Northam’s rules for phase one reopening, food and beverage establishments can operate at 50-percent capacity with tables spaced six feet or more apart. They can also apply for permits to extend their outdoor seating areas into public spaces.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.