A Song of COVID and Dining Out: Winter Is Coming

It is no secret that we have enjoyed a long and mild summer here in Tennessee. But with the change in temperatures, it is clear that winter is coming. While many restaurants and bars in Tennessee have been able to re-open their inside dining over the past few months, many have chosen to take advantage of the mild temperatures and permit outdoor seating only. But it’s time to face a harsh truth: COVID-19 will be with us for the winter months. So how can your business prepare?

Inside Dining Only

If your establishment does not have the option to add outside seating a few options could be:

  • Reservation only policy. Setting up a reservation-only system is a great way to control traffic in and out of your establishment. resy.com is currently free to sign up and use for the remainder of 2020.
  • To Go. If you have not started offering takeout, to-go or curbside service WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?!?!? The benefits of establishing a healthy takeout business cannot be over-emphasized, especially if COVID resurges in the winter months and restrictions are again placed on the hospitality industry (we have already seen it happen this summer, don’t think it won’t happen again). Click here for our recent white paper about setting up takeout for your business.

Outside Dining

It definitely seems prudent to keep your outdoor seating open as long as possible. Obviously, you can only fend off mother nature for so long, but consider adding any of the following to your outside seating:

  • Could you enclose your deck or patio with plastic sheeting to allow for use into the colder months?
  • Adding Propane heaters or fire pits. If you want to keep your outdoor seating longer and are considering adding propane heaters or fire pits you may have to apply for a permit from the fire marshal. Regardless of whether you need a permit or not, you absolutely will need to notify the fire marshal and get an inspection. We recommend calling sooner rather than later as the fire marshal anticipates many businesses will want to add heaters or fire pits this winter. Some general things to watch out for:
  • Addition of heaters or fire pits may further reduce your outdoor dining capacity in addition to the social distancing requirements already in place because you cannot have people sitting too close to the heater or open flame. Talk with your fire inspector during your site visit about how much reduction you could be looking at.
  • Something that could be helpful to your inspector could be a hand-drawn site plan prior to the site visit. The inspector will still want to come out to inspect but this could help the inspector prior to the site visit.
  • Be aware that if your fire extinguishers or exit signs are out of date you will have to have those updated before you will be approved to have heaters or fire pits on your deck or patio.


Prepare for Restrictions

Unless you have been living under a rock you know that it is possible and more than likely that if COVID-19 cases surge we all could be looking at a roll back in re-opening guidelines. We recommend having a protocol in place to deal with a rollback. Look back to how your business handled the roll back in July – what worked and what didn’t work? Now is the time to meet with your team and discuss policies and protocols for dealing with a possible roll back. Also, if you have not instituted a policy for your business if one of your staff tests positive, now is the time to set that policy as well.

At Schaffer Law Firm PLLC we drink, and we know (legal) things. Please contact us if you need any assistance including developing a roll back or staff COVID-19 positive test plan or scheduling inspections with the fire marshal.


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