Dunwoody restaurants and bars and even the food court at Perimeter Mall will be prohibited from serving dine-in customers for 30 days starting March 20 to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Take-out and delivery options are still allowed.
City leaders say while they know their local businesses are suffering, federal regulations require them to put public safety first as the pandemic continues to spread throughout the state and across the globe.
“We are in the middle of a public health crisis … and we need to discourage people from gathering,” Mayor Lynn Deutsch said during a March 18 evening conference call of the City Council to approve the emergency ordinance. The council voted unanimously to implement the ordinance.
“This is the hardest thing we’ll ever do … and we want our citizens to do pick up and get delivery from our restaurants,” she said. “We want our businesses to succeed and thrive because they are an essential part of our community.”
Deutsch said she had hoped Gov. Brian Kemp would enact a regional or statewide policy by now to put restrictions on bars and restaurants, but he has declined to do so. Numerous states — such as Florida, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Illinois and California — have ordered restaurants and bars to close.
“This whole thing is crushing to me,” she said. “This is just disastrous.”
Deutsch said the DeKalb Municipal Association has asked Kemp to take action to close bars and restaurants. She said she even reached out to state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Dunwoody resident, to talk to the governor about the issue.
“[Gov. Kemp] has yet to be agreeable to take a stand,” she said.
Councilmember John Heneghan also said he hoped Kemp or DeKalb County officials instituted a policy to close restaurants and bars on a wider scale “so this [ordinance] would not just hurt Dunwoody restaurants.”
The Dunwoody ordinance recommends restaurants and bars implement the new policy immediately, but says the policy will officially go into effect Friday, March 20, at 9 p.m. The council could lift it sooner or extend it longer.
Police Chief Billy Grogan said officers would hand-deliver the ordinance to all restaurants by Friday.
The Dunwoody ordinance to temporarily close bars and restaurants mirrors much of what the city of Brookhaven approved on March 16 as part of its response to the pandemic. Mayor John Ernst said he believed Brookhaven was the first municipality in Georgia to approve the precautionary measure. Dunwoody is believed to be the second city to do so, Deutsch said.
Restaurants and bars that sell alcohol can sell unopened bottles of wine and beer as part of take-out and delivery services, according to both ordinances.
The policy is intended to protect patrons but also employees, Dunwoody council members said.
“We’re all facing a crisis we’ve never faced before in our lifetime … and first and foremost our priority is the protection of the public’s health,” said Councilmember Tom Lambert.
Lambert said he talked to many general managers and restaurant owners and there was no universal consensus among them of what to do. Some restaurants are geared for take-out and delivery, like pizza places and sandwich shops, and are positioned to weather the storm longer, he said.
But other restaurant managers and owners told him that banning dine-in service would likely force them to completely close down, he said, at least until the ordinance is lifted.
The ordinance addresses the food court at Perimeter Mall as well. Restaurants there can remain open, but diners would not be allowed eat at tables in the food court.
The council’s evening conference call to approve suspending dine-in service at restaurants and bars was its second special meeting of the day. Earlier the council approved an ordinance declaring a “state of emergency” in the city to suspend non-essential services and public hearings, but continue operations such as public safety and finance.