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’I think this gives us a real fighting chance:’ Restaurant owners happy to be back to full capacity

Florida moves to phase 3 effective immediately

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The restaurant industry was quick to react Friday after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that diners and eateries across Florida can begin operating at full capacity once again.

The move comes as Florida transitions to the third and final phase of its coronavirus reopening plan, which effectively lifts the remaining restrictions on businesses.

Restaurants were allowed to reopen in May after being shut down for in-person dining in mid-March. Since then, they’ve operated at 50% capacity with other social distancing measures in place.

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Now they’ll be able to start seating patrons at all available tables.

“(Restaurant owners) worked as hard as anybody to create safe environments. In fact, the idea that government dictating this is better than them making these decisions so that their customers have confidence I think is misplaced and I’ve gone to many restaurants over the last many months and they take this obligation seriously. They want customers to have confidence and so they have every incentive to want to do that going forward,” DeSantis said.

JT Corrales, director of business development for Crabby Bills, stood alongside the governor during Friday’s announcement.

"Today is a big step for us in the restaurant industry in the road to recovery. I think this gives us a real fighting chance,” he said.

In a news release, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Carol Dover echoed the governor’s comments that restaurants operate on thin margins so some of the COVID-19 restrictions made a big negative impact on their bottom line.

“Florida’s hospitality industry has been decimated by COVID-19,” Dover said. “This has been a crisis like we have never seen before. Businesses have closed, and more than 336,000 people have lost work in our industry. The effects on the local and state economy have been significant.”

In downtown Orlando, Larry Goldenberg, who is a part-time manager at Metro Espresso Pizza, said he and his colleagues have been waiting for this day.

“It’s like party time, fiesta,” Goldenberg said.

He said he’s optimistic that business will rebound.

“We have employees here that have families and, you know, hours are cut, shifts are cut, but hopefully things could at least somewhat return to normal,” Goldenberg said.

Evan Dimov, the owner of Too Much Sauce, said his employees are happy for the change.

“They’re all like ‘yay,' you know? So everybody’s excited because that means that it’s more business, more hours for everybody,” Dimov said.

He said he’s anxious to welcome his customers back.

“I believe that every time they announce that it’s a bigger capacity then people feel more comfortable and then we’re going to need the more, the extra seats,” he said.

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