Restaurant owners facing challenges when enforcing social distancing

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas restaurants and bars are now allowed to operated at 75 percent capacity under Phase 3 of Gov. Greg Abbott's reopening plan.

While may restaurants say they're ready to expand, finding the space to do it safely has become a challenge.

"We reconfigured the dining room. I noticed most tables that were coming in here were smaller tables," said owner of Kenny and Ziggy's, Ziggy Gruber.

"I max out right now after 75, and I can't really, in my main dining room, get any more than that. I personally wouldn't feel any more comfortable if we did at this point," he said.

Under Phase 3 of the reopening plan, restaurants are required to keep tables six feet apart with one exception: tables can be four feet apart with a six by six foot partition - but for many restaurant and bar owners, that can be costly.

"Now, we're talking about potentially buying a lot of partitions and installing those. The costs really keep adding up, and at the same time, your revenue is down because even though we're moving to 75 percent occupancy, the reality is that many restaurants, due to the size of their space, can't fit that many tables and booths in and keep the required distancing," said Kelsey Erickson with the Restaurant Association of Houston.

Gruber also understands that challenge. Even though his Post Oak location is now at 75 percent, he hasn't be able to open his location on Buffalo Speedway at all.

"In the Buffalo Speedway store, it's like New York City store," he said. "It's like a subway, very narrow. I can't figure out how to do it without just doing it with four tables or five tables. That is very hard. That's a challenge."

For now, he's focused on keep his store on Post Oak Boulevard safe for customers. That means screening employees for COVID-19, keeping sanitizer stations throughout the restaurant, and requiring thorough disinfecting and faces masks and gloves for all employees.

"We have a lot of our customers," he said. "We have some middle-aged and older customers. We also have a lot of families, and we owe them a responsibility to make sure that they are in a safe and sound environment."

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