MARYLAND, USA — Beginning on Saturday, restaurants across much of Maryland will see their outdoor dining restrictions lifted after Governor Larry Hogan issued the order earlier this week.
However, for restaurants in Montgomery County and Prince George's counties, the wait to see restrictions lifted will last a bit longer.
Hogan made the announcement about the changes for outdoor dining on the same day he lifted the state's outdoor mask mandate. Following the decision, outdoor social distancing and capacity guidelines for restaurants will be put to the side and customers will once again be able to stand at outdoor bars.
However, counties and localities still have the authority in Maryland to implement or maintain more strict guidelines.
In Montgomery County, leaders said business reopenings would be tied to vaccine metrics.
The county's three-phase reopening plan calls for changes once 60% of residents have at least one vaccine dose and again when 50% of Montgomery County residents are fully vaccinated.
As far as outdoor dining restrictions, County Executive Marc Elrich said the county will not be aligned with Hogan's new orders but will continue to follow the county’s Board of Health regulations and guidance.
"The county’s reopening plan is aligned with our vaccination metrics and this is the smartest, most strategic way to safely reopen all businesses," Elrich said. "Among 78 large counties and metro areas, Montgomery County has the lowest case rate per 100,000 east of the Mississippi River. Our previous decisions have resulted in these low case rates, we should stay the same course.”
While restaurants in other parts of the state geared up on Friday for more outdoor dining this weekend, inside Crisfield Seafood in Silver Spring it was similar to what it has been like for the past few months.
While 2021 marks 76 years in business for the restaurant, chairs rested on top of unused tables while staff took calls for orders and to-go bags with popular seafood dishes and platters waited to be picked up at the bar.
Owner David Landis told WUSA9 he decided to keep only offering takeout, instead of also offering limited seating, due to the challenges of navigating through the changing rules and restrictions.
"I don’t want to bring (employees) back and then send them away again," he said. "We’re not in any huge hurry as long as we can pay our bills.”
While Crisfield Seafood has experienced the struggles many other restaurants have suffered, Landis credited his loyal customers for helping him avoid having to make even tougher decisions during the pandemic.
For now, he plans to keep exclusively offering takeout before making any major changes to the service.
"I’m kind of happy that we’re in Montgomery County. I’m kind of happy they take it a little slower. I’ve seen a couple of times where things have reopened and gone bad again," he said. "We want to get through the summer and watch what happens before we commit to anything.”
Restaurants in Prince George's County face a similar unknown waiting period for outdoor dining restrictions to be lifted.
On Friday, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced that the area's outdoor mask mandate was lifted.
However, no changes were made to current capacity restrictions for businesses but Alsobrooks said "additional information will come in the near future."
With the eateries in Montgomery County and Prince George's County still waiting to fully reopen outdoor services, the Restaurant Association of Maryland expressed concerns on Friday.
"It does add another level of frustration because we have seen that residents in those counties are more than willing to pick up and travel to other jurisdictions in order to go out to eat," said President Marshall Weston. "Certainly, now that people are going to be able to gather outdoors, I think those surrounding counties are going to benefit from an increase in business while the restaurants in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County are going to stay at the status quo.”
With restaurants still facing an unknown timeline moving forward with current restrictions, Weston said plenty of work still remained on the road to recovery.
"Restaurants are going to continue to try to get by for at least another year," he said. "Most restauranteurs feel that after being asked to do so much over the past year, it could be three years before they fully and truly recover from this pandemic.”