Columbus Police to Begin Restaurant Compliance Checks

Restaurants throughout Ohio began to open their doors for dine-in customers after lengthy shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside dining on restaurant patios began May 15, and inside dining followed closely on May 21.

Before reopening to on-site and dine-in service, Ohio eateries had been limited to carryout and home delivery service only.

The reopening comes with strict rules, though, to limit the possibility of a second wave of infections. While many restaurants are following the rules, others are not.

Because of that, some Columbus police officers are helping to ensure Ohio eating spots follow the rules.

What Are the Rules for Restaurants to Re-Open for Dine-In Service?

The Ohio Restaurant Association and the Ohio Department of Health developed a list of rules that each of the roughly 23,000 restaurants in the Buckeye State must follow in order to offer on-site and dine-in service.

  • A six-foot social distancing area must be kept between employees and customers at all times – including when standing in line.
  • The maximum size of parties is limited to 10 people. There must be a six-foot distance or physical barrier between all groups.
  • Customers must remain seated while eating and drinking.
  • Areas not used for food prep and service (dance floors, pool areas, etc.) will remain closed.
  • Restaurant servers will bring guests food from salad bars and buffets.
  • A list of COVID-19 symptoms and other virus details must be posted on or near entrances.
  • Most restaurant employees are required to wear masks. Some workers, like those who work over hot grills, aren’t required to wear masks.
  • If workers are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, restaurant owners and managers must require them to stay home.
  • The restaurant must undergo cleaning throughout the day. This includes disinfecting tabletops, menus, and chairs between each seating.

Both restaurants and bars are included in the guidelines. Since both industries are already highly regulated by the state, the main emphasis on COVID-19 plans is to protect actual physical space.

Columbus Police is Helping Enforce the Guidelines

Teams from the Department of Columbus Public Health have been responding to complaints about COVID-19 and local restaurants since March. While most eateries are following the rules, some are not.

Now, police are going with the inspection teams to the restaurants.

“The police are there to protect the public health staff and to protect restaurant staff,” said Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.

When asked for comment, the Mayor of Columbus was in agreement. “Columbus Public Health and the Division of Police are working together to follow-up on complaints about restaurants and bars. We are all in this together. All of our actions now will determine if we’re able to resume dining out and staying healthy.”

What Are the Penalties for Restaurants Not in Compliance?

For a first time offense of the COVID-19 rules, the public health staff will issue a warning to the owners and managers.

During one day in late May, public health team members issued warning letters to five Columbus restaurants.

Each repeated offense is a misdemeanor of the second degree. Possible penalties include a fine of $750 or 90 days in jail – or both.

How Many Restaurants Are Offering Dine-In Service?

The Ohio Restaurant Association says it expects 85 percent of the state’s restaurants to be open for dine-in or on-site eating by the end of May.

Some eateries have jumped at the chance to reopen to the public.

“The smaller restaurants are really struggling; they just can’t see a way out of this,” said the director of the Ohio Restaurant Association in a recent interview.

According to him, many of the eateries are on razor thin budgets because they’ve lost most of their income for two months, while still having to pay for rental space and utilities.

For many, the stimulus money provided by the federal government comes with far too many restrictions and limitations for its use.

In explaining his decision to slow-walk the reopening of his restaurant near Ohio State University, one business owner said he would continue to offer food on a carry out and delivery basis.

Another owner said he decided to open his business doors two months to the day of its forced closure due to COVID-19.

Although he installed a few new safety measures – including glass between booths, less tables, and health and temperature checks for each employee at the beginning of each shift – he’s excited about opening up.

Beyond helping customers feel better about their safety, many employees are responding well to the protective measures.


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