The dining room at Cafe Barbosso, which will begin offering limited in-person dining next week.

Image: Chad Spencer

Starting Monday, May 4, restaurants in the Sarasota area can once again begin offering in-person dining, which has been banned since late March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn't mean it's back to business as usual.

According to Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order, issued last week, restaurants must adopt social distancing rules and limit indoor seating to 25 percent of total capacity. That means parties must be seated more than six feet apart from one another, and groups of more than 10 are still not allowed to eat together. For outdoor seating, there are no capacity limits, but parties must still be seated more than six feet apart.

Carol Dover, the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, calls the plan a "measured and thoughtful approach."

Some local restaurants have already announced plans to offer in-person dining. Oak & Stone, which has five locations between Naples and St. Petersburg, plans to begin seating customers next Tuesday, May 5. Sarasota's Cafe Barbosso also has plans to begin offering in-person dining, as do Sarasota's Lemon Tree Kitchen and others.

Some restaurants have announced that they will not begin seating customers immediately. Longboat Key's Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, for example, will continue to only offer takeout.

Other eateries are taking a gradual approach: Sarasota's Knick's Tavern & Grill plans to offer only outdoor seating at first. "We are not allowing inside dining for the safety of our team members, our family members," said Knick's co-owner Knickole Barger in a Facebook video. "Let's just play this out a little bit longer, OK?"

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