Capacity restrictions lifted from restaurants, retailers in Tennessee; large attractions can also reopen

Gov. Bill Lee’s economic recovery group announced plans to lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and businesses in Tennessee as well as to reopen larger, noncontact attractions by May 22. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Bill Lee’s economic recovery group announced plans to lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and businesses in Tennessee as well as to reopen larger, noncontact attractions by May 22. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gov. Bill Lee’s economic recovery group announced plans to lift capacity restrictions on restaurants and businesses in Tennessee as well as to reopen larger, noncontact attractions by May 22. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

Beginning May 22, restaurants and retail businesses throughout the state can reopen at full capacity while continuing to maintain safety practices outlined in the Tennessee Pledge, according to an announcement from Gov. Bill Lee.

“Tennesseans have worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state, and their efforts have allowed us to continue to reopen our economy further,” Lee said in a statement. “These guidelines share best practices to ensure our state’s businesses can continue to operate in a way that protects customers and employees while putting people back to work.”

Restaurants should continue to maintain 6 feet between tables for guests dining in, and bars should remain closed unless offering seated dining service. Retail shops should continue limiting the number of people in a store to maintain social distancing in between shoppers.

Also beginning May 22, large, non-contact attractions, such as concert and performance venues, amusement and water parks, theaters, zoos, large museums and similar businesses can reopen under new guidelines, which include screening customers and employees and limiting capacity to ensure small groups maintain social distancing standards.

As with previous announcements, the reopenings do not apply to large cities and counties, including Metro Nashville. However, Mayor John Cooper announced May 21 the city will move onto Phase II of its reopening plan May 25. The next phase will allow for restaurants and retail to operate at 75% and will allow gyms and salons to reopen at partial capacity.


Live music is now permitted provided there is a 15-foot space between performers and audience members. In Metro Nashville, Cooper also said May 21 that live music is permitted but only in restaurants, as bars are to remain closed.

Lee also announced May 21 the state will now allow groups of up to 50 to meet for social purposes, up from the previously recommended number of 10. Gatherings of up to 25 people are now permitted in Metro Nashville.

"While this number has increased, we want to remind everybody the reason that we have gotten here is because Tennesseans have been committed to social distancing," Lee said in a May 21 press conference. "We can lift restrictions and open up our economy, but we can never forget that social distancing continues to mitigate the spread of this virus, which still exists in our communities. It still exists in our state, it's a public health threat, and we [must] remember that as we go out, as we gather as we do the things that we're beginning to do—we [must] remember that social distancing is a part of that we do this and address it safely."
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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