AUSTIN, Texas - On Friday, the state moved into phase three of Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Open Texas” plan, which means restaurants can now increase customer capacity to 75 percent.
The governor said this next step in reopening is only possible because hospital capacity hasn’t been threatened by the number of people testing positive for COVID-19.
Although Texas reported the highest number of positive COVID-19 test results a couple of days ago, Abbott said that was because of previously administered tests on prisoners. However, areas with spikes will be addressed by surge response teams.
“When we open up things like restaurants, we do that with the advice of these doctors, the four doctors that advise our team, and they all say that the way the restaurants are opening up, they open up in ways that reduce and or prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” said Abbott.
Restaurant owners have had to rethink how they operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Spaced out tables, fewer customers, and strict sanitation protocols have become the new normal, making it tougher than ever to stay afloat.
“Support the restaurants. It’s an industry that may die if the people are not supporting us,” said Iliana de la Vega, owner and chef at El Naranjo on South Lamar.
Restaurant owners said 75 percent customer capacity is an important number because that’s typically the threshold for them to begin to turn a profit.
“That is true. That’s why we need everybody coming back,” said Randy Cohen, owner of Z’Tejas on West 6th Street.
At larger establishments, like Z’Tejas, accommodating more guests is a welcome change.
“It’s a huge difference. It’s going to mean we can seat more people in dining rooms. We can expand the amount of people that sit at tables from 6 to 10, which that is the bulk of our business, people usually come in parties of 10, 12 people,” said Brian Joseph, general manager of Z’Tejas.
However, for restaurants with limited space, like El Naranjo, it’s still somewhat tricky to seat more people.
“It’s a big step in many ways, but in others, it’s kind of the same thing because you don’t necessarily have the space to fit, with the distance between tables of the people, it does not necessarily make so much difference,” de la Vega said.
According to de la Vega, ideas on the table in Austin, like allowing for more seating outside her doors, could help her serve more people at a time. In the meantime, she’s just excited to be moving closer to business as usual, while doing everything possible to keep her staff and customers safe.
“That’s the most important thing; that nobody gets sick. Not here, not anywhere,” said de la Vega.
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