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LA County Reduces Outdoor Dining Capacity to 50 Percent and Institutes 10 p.m. Curfew

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The new restrictions take effect on Friday, November 20

Tents for outdoor dining in Alhambra on November 17
Tents for outdoor dining in Alhambra on November 17
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl announced today that LA County will have new rules in place to stem the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases from the past few weeks, including 50 percent reduced capacity for outdoor dining rooms, a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, and non-essential retail businesses, and 25 percent capacity for indoor retail. The new rules will go into effect across the county on Friday, November 20 in an effort to bring down rising coronavirus cases, which averaged nearly 3,000 a day over the weekend. The news was reported on KNX radio as well as on the Press-Enterprise.

Beginning last Friday, county officials began hinting that they would take measures to combat this third wave of cases after a dramatic increase in community spread. It’s unclear if the increase in cases was due to outdoor dining; county officials attribute some of the rise to recent public celebrations of sports championships for the Dodgers and Lakers, as well as for president-elect Joe Biden. Compared to one month ago, cases are up 150 percent across the state while hospitalizations are up 51 percent, according the LA Times.

Other large cities such as San Francisco and New York City have already taken new measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. New York City, which still allows indoor dining, lowered its curfew from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. for any establishment that has a state liquor license while the city of San Francisco eliminated indoor dining altogether on November 14 due to a 250 percent rise in cases from October 2 to early November. LA County seemed to take their lead and not only followed suit with a curfew (which it did not have previously), but instituted a reduced capacity on outdoor dining, which no major American city had taken in the past few weeks. In LA County, between 10 and 15 percent of cases were seen to have originated from on-site dining at restaurants. It’s unclear what data set the county was using to base the figures on, but the information was announced on October 30.

Kato’s outdoor dining area, which seats fewer than 20 people
Kato’s outdoor dining area, which seats fewer than 20 people
Matthew Kang

Previously, outdoor dining was seen as a bit of a savior for restaurants that had been hit hard with reduced sales. In LA County, cities like Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach to smaller neighborhoods like Montrose took great measures to install new outdoor spaces, while the city of LA offered a new program called Al Fresco to ease the permitting process for restaurants looking to expand dining rooms to sidewalks, parking lots, and other outdoor spaces. Previously, when indoor dining was temporarily allowed from late May to early July, LA restaurants were allowed to operate at 60 percent capacity, but there weren’t any specific outdoor dining room capacity restrictions.

Now the county’s newly imposed 50 percent capacity requirement will jeopardize sales during the weeks leading up to the winter holidays. Restaurants like Kato in West LA already have very small outdoor dining areas with fewer than two dozen seats. Next door Oaxacan restaurant Monte Alban also has about two dozen seats that juts into the parking lot. A 50 percent reduced capacity would all but force restaurants with very small outdoor dining rooms, especially small strip mall restaurants with limited outdoor areas to contemplate temporary closures.

Just yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom put Southern California counties like Orange, Santa Barbara, and Ventura into the most restrictive purple tier, joining the neighboring counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Now 28 counties across the state are in the purple tier, which prohibits any form of indoor dining. Research continues to show that those participating in indoor dining have a higher risk of spreading COVID-19. The risk is highest for those working in the restaurant and serving diners, such as servers, bartenders, and bussers. Just this week, the state officials mandated that diners at restaurants will be required to keep masks on when approached by servers.

It’s unclear how long the reduced outdoor capacity and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will last, but Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county health director, advised people to rethink holiday plans, stay home whenever possible, and use delivery services for groceries and medicines for the next two-to-three weeks.