Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) lifted a month-long ban on indoor dining in the District on Jan. 22, allowing restaurants to open indoors at 25% capacity.
The ban on indoor dining was implemented Dec. 23 to curb the spread of the coronavirus as infections and hospitalizations spiked around the country. While the pause on indoor dining was initially set to expire Jan. 15, Bowser extended it by another week because of safety and security concerns stemming from the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Indoor seating has helped increase business amid struggles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Brian Yousefi, owner-chef of City Sliders on Wisconsin Avenue.
“We’re excited finally we can have indoor seating because, before that, it was very difficult,” Yousefi said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “When the weather is nice outside, people are outside and they like it. But when the weather’s not, it’s really hard to keep people outside again.”
City Sliders, which opened in October, offered outdoor seating during December through the Georgetown Business Improvement District’s streateries program, according to Yousefi. City Sliders has implemented safety measures to limit health risks, Yousefi said, and staff regularly sanitize surfaces as well as use a high-heat dishwasher to eliminate germs.
The lift of the indoor dining ban arrives during a period of significant strain on local businesses, according to Rachel Shank, the executive director of Georgetown Main Street.
“It is a difficult time to own an independent restaurant,” Shank wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The combination of cold temperatures and the pause on indoor dining really squeezed restaurants these past few weeks.”
The reopening will benefit neighborhood restaurants that are struggling during the winter months of the pandemic, according to Shank.
“If the health experts say indoor dining at 25% capacity is safe, then we are here to help restaurants adhere to those guidelines and promote those businesses offering indoor dining,” Shank wrote.
While innovative outdoor dining setups including heaters, tents and individual dining bubbles came as a welcome new addition to D.C.’s dining culture, the return to indoor dining is beneficial for restaurant owners, according to Shank.
“The parklets and streateries have really created a whole new atmosphere for restaurants that we are happy to see continue through 2021,” Shank said. “That said, the reopening of indoor dining will certainly mean more revenue for those restaurants that don’t just prepare meals but also curate a whole experience for their customers.”
The decision to reopen indoor dining comes as the District experiences record rates of COVID-19 infections. Last week, the city averaged 29.3 new cases per 100,000 residents, and city health data shows that D.C. hospitals are at approximately 90% capacity.
Cases city-wide are trending downward from earlier this month, but the case rate is still higher than the peak of the first surge in spring 2020. The city’s rollout of vaccinations for adults aged 65 and older has come under fire for inequity in distribution and supply shortages.
While the remaining winter months will be difficult for business, there is hope that bringing back indoor dining will offer some reprieve, according to Yousefi.
“At least even with a 25% capacity, it’s still better than nothing,” Yousefi said.