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Arkansas Restaurants Mixed About Ease In COVID-19 Restrictions

David Monteith

Despite Arkansas seeing a record number of COVID-19 cases, the state is moving on to Phase Two of reopening, guided by the Trump Administration's Opening Up America Again Guidelines. Under Phase Two, which began Monday restaurants are allowed to operate at two-thirds capacity for dine-in services. Not all restaurants are eager to reopen however.

Eateries in the state have been limited to one-third of their maximum seating for dine-in services for more than a month. When those Phase One limitations were announced last month, Ron Settler, the owner of Sim's Bar-B-Que, said he would wait for a vaccine or the end of the virus to re-open for dine-in. Nothing from the last month has changed his mind. "Everything is still 'To Go' in all three locations. No dine-in. I'm still going to stand on where I was last [month] that I'm not going to open up dine-in until this thing is 100% controlled."

Sim’s Bar-B-Que has been takeout only since the onset of the coronavirus in Arkansas. Settler says prior to the coronavirus up to 70% of the restaurant's business was takeout orders, so the adjustment hasn't been too difficult.

Mark Abernathy, the owner of The Red Door and Loca Luna took a different approach. He closed both restaurants completely for the past two months for kitchen renovations. The restaurants have recently reopened, but strictly for takeout.

"We'd love to open the whole restaurant up," Abernathy said, "but I've got to feel like it's safe for my employees and my customers and I don't have to fight people who don't want to wear masks."

Some restaurants, like The Box, a burger joint in Little Rock, took advantage of Phase One guidelines and resumed dine-in service at reduced capacity as soon as it was allowed. Kelly Wayne Joyner, owner of The Box, says he welcomes the latest reduction in restrictions.

"Anything that we can get that gets us to this new normal and allows the economy to start taking breaths again, I think is really beneficial."

Phase Two guidelines still require increased distance between tables and masks for employees and customers.