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Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday that restaurants across Arkansas can reopen their dining rooms at one-third capacity on May 11.

Hutchinson ordered dine-in services at all Arkansas restaurants and bars to cease on March 21 to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in public places. The only services allowed since have been drive-through and carry-out.

At his daily press briefing Wednesday, Hutchinson laid out the conditions under which restaurants may reopen.

In the first phase of the reopening plan, which begins May 11, restaurants can seat only 33% of their normal guest capacity at one time, and no parties of 10 or more people will be allowed.

“I recognize that 33 percent is not enough to cover the overhead at some restaurants,” Hutchinson said. “We all recognize that, but that’s where we need to start at this particular time.”

In order to adhere to required social distancing procedures, employees must seat all parties at least six feet apart from one another, with at least 10 feet of space between each table, Hutchinson said. Staff health screenings for COVID symptoms and regular restaurant-wide cleanings will also be required.

All staff coming into contact with customers will be required to wear face masks, and the Arkansas Department of Health recommends that all other restaurant employees do so as well, according to the ADH directive issued Wednesday. All staff will be required to wear gloves, which must be changed out between tasks.

Patrons will also be required to wear face coverings prior to and after eating their meals. Bars, entertainment areas, and self-serve sections, such as salad bars, inside restaurants will remain closed.

Hutchinson said that if the rollout of phase one of the reopening is successful, state officials will enter phase two and raise the seating limit to 67% of normal capacity within the coming weeks.

Sarah Komar is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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