Customers walk down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter with take-out pizza, passing a restaurant with a crowded bar on the first evening of Phase One of the re-opening of New Orleans during the pandemic. Photographed on Saturday, May 16, 2020. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

What to expect in New Orleans during Phase 1 of reopening

Here's what you need to know before heading out during the Phase 1 reopening of New Orleans, and how local business owners are handling the process.

by Marielle Songy | May 19, 2020

Since March 23, the state of Louisiana has had a “stay-at home” order in place, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the order, non-essential businesses were closed, and restaurants were only able to offer take-out and delivery service.

On May 16, New Orleans businesses moved into Phase 1 of reopening and, while some are still anxious about getting back out there, many are excited to ease back into a little bit of day to day normalcy.

In Phase 1, all non-essential businesses and all non-closed businesses will be open to the public at 25% of capacity. The phase will last 21 days, until June 5, at which point Phase 2 will likely begin and more people will be allowed into businesses.

For now, all employees working with the public are required to wear masks and it’s strongly encouraged that patrons of businesses wear masks, when possible. Public gatherings will be limited to less than 10 people, and those with underlying health issues are encouraged to stay home as much as possible.

Patrons at New Orleans businesses will also be required to provide a name and phone number for contact tracing. The city will require restaurants, beauty salons and gyms to use reservations to keep track of customers so that people can be easily contacted for contact tracing purposes. The goal of contract tracing is to be able to easily contact any person that may have come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The contact tracing effort will be led by the Louisiana Department of Health.

Know Before You Go

Here’s what you can expect to find open during Phase 1:

Aquariums: open to the public at 25% of their capacity, with no organized tours and no tactile exhibits.

Barbers: open at 25% capacity with social distancing.

Bars: must hold state food service certificate to be able to do or take-out and delivery of food and alcohol and dine-in seating indoor services at 25% of their capacity; outside- no crowd size limitations, if social distancing is practiced.

Casinos and video poker: open at no more than 25% of their capacity.

Churches and funerals: indoor services at 25% of their capacity; outside- no crowd size limitations, if social distancing practiced.

Gyms and fitness centers: open at 25% of their capacity; no group classes, locker room, sauna or shower use in New Orleans centers.

Hair salons: open at 25% capacity with social distancing.

Malls: Anchor stores of shopping malls with exterior doors accessible by the public will be allowed to be open to the public at 25% capacity. Interior malls may provide curbside delivery only.

Movie theaters: open to the public at 25% capacity.

Museums: open to the public at 25% of their capacity; no organized tours and no tactile exhibits.

Nail salons: open at 25% capacity with social distancing.

Restaurants, coffee shops, and cafés: open for indoor table service at 25% of their capacity; outdoor seating, if social distancing practiced.

Zoos: open to the public at 25% of their capacity; no organized tours and no tactile exhibits.

 How are business owners handling the reopening?

While some of the rules can be confusing, local restaurants are eager to open and welcome customers back to their dining rooms. Restaurant owners are taking extra steps to make employees and patrons feel safe.

Co-owner of Vessel Restaurant, Eddie Dyer, said that his restaurant is accepting reservations and has a patio for outdoor dining, which will help with social distancing.

He said, “We finished our large patio in December, so it provides lots of space.  We have gotten lots of guidelines from the National Restaurant Association and the CDC and will be following them for all safety precautions along with city and state regulations.”

Doris Metropolitan, an upscale French Quarter steakhouse, is also welcoming back guests with reservation-only seating and regular sterilization of surfaces.

“It’s all about keeping our employees and guests safe. We have hired a dedicated cleaner to be here at night and sanitize all common surfaces every 15 minutes,” a contact for the restaurant said via email Friday. “We are going to be reservation only- as the state and local guidelines require. We are taking the reopening one step at a time and taking all guidelines very seriously.”

Although many business owners are excited to be serving customers again, the process hasn’t come without some nerves.

Amanda Toups, of Toups’ Meatery, said that she is doing what she can to keep her staff and customers safe, but the new plan of operation is unchartered territory. The restaurant has been offering curbside service since restrictions were put on restaurants, and she plans to take the new regulations day by day.

“Isaac and I are planning to reopen following all the rules and regulations to keep our staff and guests safe,” she explained. “We are a tiny restaurant, so we will use our patios spacing 10 feet and inside the same. We will not have more than 20 guests total, between indoor and outdoor, at a time.”

“We are nervous about reopening, to be honest,” she said. “I’m worried for my staff. I’m worried for our guests. We will just see how it goes and, if it doesn’t feel right, we will go back to curbside and delivery only. We are doing reservations and for walk-ins we will take their name and phone number. I know we aren’t going to do this perfectly, but we are dedicated to the task and doing it as well as possible.”

Gary Wollerman, co-owner of French Quarter restaurant GW Fins is excited to be taking this first step towards normalcy. Some moderations to the dining experience include one server per table, no salt and pepper shakers on the table, no table centerpieces and precautions posted on the restaurant’s website and social media pages

Like other restaurant owners, Wollerman has questions about the Phase 1 process and how profitable it will be for his business.

“With all of the precautions, there are still concerns. With more exposure to each other will there be a surge of infections? Operating at 25 percent capacity is not a profitable position. How soon can we go to 50 percent, which is still not profitable?” he said.  “How soon will people generally feel comfortable dining out, going to music venues, and enjoying the French Quarter? Our seating is currently at 60 people.  We do take reservations and encourage them to help us in contact tracing.”

Owner of The Avenue Pub, Polly Watts, has made the decision to not open the inside of her bar to diners, because practicing proper social distancing would be difficult in the space. Watts has been offering take-out meals out of the bar’s kitchen since March. During Phase 1, she will be providing outdoor seating in front of the bar and offering small plates, burgers and sandwiches. Patrons can dine at the outside tables if desired.

“We put tables and chairs out front and we’re going to be serving food-to-go,” she said. “We’ll also be able to serve drinks to-go- 2 drinks per food order, but we won’t be providing table service.”

Watts has also been working to provide family meals for EMS for over a month- a service that she’s struggling to maintain because it’s donation based. She fears that providing for these workers in need might be forgotten during phase one.

“The Pub has provided 160 meals to EMS in the past month,” she said. “One meal feeds four people.”

Donations for EMS meals can be made through The Avenue Pub site HERE . Mention EMS in the message section or donate HERE.

Marielle Songy

Marielle Songy

Marielle was born and raised in New Orleans. She thinks it's hard to grow up there and not let the culture and history of the city become part of you.

Whether it be the jazz, food, of fabulous architecture, she thinks most would agree that things are a little spicer down here. You can reach her via email at [email protected]

Download the Very Local app to stream all of the Very Local original series for FREE!

Download the Very Local app to stream all of the Very Local original series for FREE!