BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- It was a big day for restaurant and bar owners in Baltimore as COVID-19 restrictions on dining loosened for the first time in six weeks.
Inside Blue Moon Too café, staff members were cleaning the front door every 15 minutes, taking down customers' names and phone numbers and wiping down the tables as a part of the coronavirus protocol restaurants must maintain to reopen.
Despite the extra work, employees said they're just happy to see customers coming through the doors again.
"It's super exciting," said Shelly Layfield of Blue Moon Too.
There was a bustling morning breakfast crowd in Federal Hill, something restaurants haven't seen in weeks.
Employees at Bar Vasquez in Harbor East were similarly excited, general manager Charisse Nichols said ahead of the restaurant's 5 p.m. reopening.
Nichols said she is "over the moon" about reopening.
"We all came in last night, all hands on deck to make sure everything was sanitized properly, to make sure we feel comfortable in this space, because if we do, that means we can make our guests feel warm," she said.
Bar Vasquez has also implemented temperature checks for customers.
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The reopening of restaurants and bars was also a welcome sight for Barley's Backyard Fells Point.
"It's good to be back," general manager Joseph Becker said. "I know the staff's really excited to get back to work."
"It's been awesome so far," Becker added. "We had most of our regulars come back."
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced Wednesday he would lift restrictions on bars and restaurants, gyms and some entertainment venues at 6 a.m. Friday.
"With the most recent leveling in cases, I have made the decision to adjust our city's COVID-19 mandates," Scott said in a Wednesday news conference.
The change comes with new restrictions: indoor dining is capped at 25% capacity and outdoor dining at 50%.
"It's been weird not to be able to sit down at places or socialize," said Claire, a customer.
Diners like Claire, however, are limited to only one hour at restaurants. That one hour includes time spent in a bar and a restaurant, meaning customers can't spend an hour at a restaurant's bar and then sign in for another hour to eat.
Some bar and restaurant owners are hesitant about this latest rule.
"You can't sit down and eat in an hour, and then it also causes people to want to go from bar to bar, so the one-hour time limit for most people, you're literally promoting bar crawling," Terri Chetelat, General Manager of The Point, said.
Since December on-premise dining has been forbidden and restaurants were limited to carry-out and delivery services.
"We put the times down and we go back periodically and check it and make sure everyone is in and out within an hour," Layfield said. "It's been tough for the last few weeks."
With the city now having the lowest positivity rate in the state, restaurant staff members hope they won't have to shut down again.
"We hope this is definitely the final times and things can only get better!" Layfield added.
Mel Carter with Blue Hill Tavern, meanwhile, couldn't believe the restrictions were being lifted.
"I was kind of in shock because we've heard lots of rumors along the way. We weren't expecting it," he said.
Now that the doors are open, he's optimistic about the future as the restaurant looks ahead to its 12th birthday in July.
"December 14 was the last day we were allowed to be open," Carter said. "The outpouring from the community was incredible, so we're back up and running again, we sure will be there."
The new changes will remain in effect in Baltimore for at least the next four weeks.
The National Restaurant Association said the industry has lost over $100 billion. Under the new rules, bars and breweries that don't serve food are open for the first time since they were shut down in November.
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