North Carolina bars could serve outdoors again in bill clearing state Senate

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announces that an executive order requiring restaurants and bars eliminate all dining area service, but allowing takeout and delivery, on March 17, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. Some restaurant owners are defying the order.

North Carolina bars — their doors still shuttered by executive order — could serve patrons outdoors during the pandemic in legislation that cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday.

One approved measure attempts to increase the customer base for restaurants and breweries that have been allowed to partially reopen their indoor serving areas under Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order taking effect last week.

But in another bill, bars and similar private clubs that remain completely closed could sell beverages outside, whether on a patio or under a tent or awning.

In both measures, the businesses would have to limit outdoor seating to the lesser of 100 customers or 50% of indoor capacity.

Social distancing rules would have to be followed for outdoor seating. Areas for alcohol consumption also would be cordoned off.

Sen. Rick Gunn, an Alamance County Republican shepherding the bills, said they would help a food and beverage industry decimated by the virus and the resulting orders that began in March. A restaurant trade group estimated that 350,000 employees lost their jobs when restaurants were barred from dine-in service.

The measures now head to another committee. The full Senate and House would have to act on the measures before they went to Cooper’s desk.

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