Editor’s Note: The Herald will be visiting local restaurants to see if they are complying with recommended safety measures from the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants in Texas have had the ability to conduct dine-in operations, at a maximum of 25% capacity, for the past three weeks.

As restaurants prepare to increase the capacity to 50% Friday, some area residents who have not dined in a restaurant since the reopening may be wondering what safety measures they are taking.

The Texas Department of State Health Services published a three-page list of minimum standard health protocols — which is a list of recommendations — for restaurants to follow as they reopen.

Upon a Thursday afternoon visit to T.G.I. Fridays, 2801 E. Central Texas Expressway in Killeen, the Herald observed the following:

  • The restaurant had a list of promises on the entry door. The company called it the “Fridays Clean Guarantee.”
  • The greeter opened the door.
  • A hand-sanitizer bottle was made available at the entrance.
  • Social distancing stickers were placed 6 feet apart on the ground in the lobby where people would wait.
  • The server wore a mask during all interactions.
  • Seating was available at booths, and there was at least one booth of separation between available booths.
  • Tables and booths not in use had a sign that said, “This table is reserved for physical distancing. Socializing is always welcomed at your table.”
  • Booths used for seating customers had a sign that said, “This table has been sanitized by your Fridays Team.”
  • The food and drink menus were paper and disposable.
  • All tables were empty, save for the signs that indicated sanitation or physical distancing.
  • All drinks were brought in disposable cups, and even single cups were served on a drink tray.
  • All condiments were brought in single-use dishes.
  • Salt and pepper was distributed in the small, single-use packets.
  • Eating utensils were disposable.
  • The Herald did not observe staff interactions with other customers.

The restaurant’s general manager, Chris Dickerson, discussed other precautions that could not be observed.

Dickerson said all employees enter the restaurant through the back door. Prior to entering the restaurant, employees are screened for their temperature, and they are asked questions about their health.

All cooks wear gloves while preparing food, Dickerson said.

As the restaurant prepares to increase capacity Friday, Dickerson said it will likely be difficult to have 50% capacity, which would be 129, according to the rated maximum capacity.

The priority is to keep 6 feet of distance between available tables, so due to the available space, it would be difficult to have 50% capacity while maintaining 6 feet of separation.

“We are going exactly by the governor’s standards,” Dickerson said of the social distancing requirements.

George Highsmith, director of the retail food sanitation program within the Bell County Public Health District, said that he and his team are strongly suggesting that restaurants follow the state’s protocols.

“Most of the things that are on the employee side are suggestions, they’re not mandated,” Highsmith said. “So we really can’t enforce it.”

The county food inspectors cannot enforce things that are not part of the Texas food establishment rules, he said.

The Herald will be visiting other local restaurants to see if they are complying with recommended safety measures from the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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