On May 27, 2020, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced the District will partially reopen and the Stay-at-Home Order will end on May 29, 2020. Her announcement was expected, given that Washington, D.C., recently reported zero new COVID-19 fatalities for the first time in over seven weeks. Both revelations were welcome news to the District’s bars and restaurants, which have eagerly awaited firm guidance on when they can reopen their doors to a city hungry for normalcy.

Phase 1, the first of four anticipated stages crafted by the Mayor's reopening task force, will officially begin this Friday. While these stages were crafted by the reopening task force, the Mayor retains final discretion as to when and how D.C.'s economy will reopen.

We have summarized Phase 1 and the subsequent recommendations below for select staple industries in D.C. – restaurants, nightclubs, and bars. Business owners should read on to stay informed and begin preparing to reopen, whether at the start of Phase 1 or in the future.

What Is D.C.'s Reopening Timeline?

On its website, the Mayor's office published ReOpen DC, a set of recommendations providing a four-stage timeline to reopen D.C.'s businesses:

  • Stage 1 required evidence of "declining community transmission" of COVID-19.
  • Stage 2 starts once transmission is "only localized."
  • Stage 3 commences upon only "sporadic transmission."
  • Stage 4, in which business activity is "as close to normal as possible," will arrive along with an effective COVID-19 vaccine or cure.

When Can My Dine-In Restaurant Reopen?

"Restaurants [with] open outdoor seating" that can comply with the District's physical distancing and safeguard requirements (which we cover below) fall into Stage 1. Restaurants that rely on indoor seating can operate at half-capacity beginning in Stage 2; restaurants able to operate in Stage 1 will presumably be able to open their indoor seating areas under the same restrictions and requirements.

Stage 3 does not list requirements for physical distancing and health safeguards–instead, it allows restaurants to operate at half-capacity "with case-by-case approvals for expansion." Remember–everything beyond Phase 1 is still a recommendation. Actual requirements will be up to the Mayor's discretion.

Has D.C. Announced Any Specific Requirements for Dine-In Restaurants?

Yes – specific and official requirements for Phase 1 restaurants are available as of now. The Mayor's Before You Reopen Checklist provides further official guidance on how restaurants may reopen.

Apart from the Mayor's official announcements, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has been closely involved with developing the ReOpen DC recommendations, releases ongoing but unofficial recommendations.

When Can My Bar or Nightclub Reopen?

Unfortunately, bars and nightclubs are one of only two business groups to be closed until Stage 3–the other being community pools. Once Washington, D.C., has reached "sporadic" COVID-19 transmission, bars and clubs can open with limited capacity.

The recommendations specifically limit clubs and bars to five people per 1,000 sq. ft.–roughly the size of a two-bedroom apartment. For now, the Mayor's orders limit bars, nightclubs, mixed-use facilities, and private social clubs to curbside pickup or delivery, or home-based services.

The facts, laws, and regulations regarding COVID-19 are developing rapidly. Since the date of publication, there may be new or additional information not referenced in this advisory. Please consult with your legal counsel for guidance.

DWT will continue to provide up-to-date insights and virtual events regarding COVID-19 concerns. Our most recent insights, as well as information about recorded and upcoming virtual events, are available at www.dwt.com/COVID-19.