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LA Restaurant Owners and Chefs Respond to County’s 50 Percent Outdoor Dining Capacity

The reduction could jeopardize businesses that are already struggling

Glendale Galleria in a creative effort has set up tables and chairs in the Galleria parking structure to create an outdoor dining area.
Janitor Juan Camacho wipes tables clean after diners consumed lunch in the Glendale Galleria parking structure in July 2020
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times 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.

On November 17, LA County officials announced a 50 percent reduced outdoor dining capacity for restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries that will become active on November 20. The aim is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as it surges back for the third time. County officials admitted that private gatherings, and public celebrations in the aftermath of sports championships and the announcement of president-elect Joe Biden were at least in part to blame for the rising number of cases across the county, which has reached nearly 2,700 over the past seven days. The sharp increase has caused alarm for officials, but could signal difficult times for LA restaurants and bars who are already struggling with lower sales. On Wednesday, November 18, officials said if case numbers go above 4,000 a day (for the prior five days as an average) then outdoor dining will be prohibited across the county.

Here now, Eater asks restaurant owners and chefs across the city to respond to the city’s proposal to combat the spread of COVID-19 with reduced dining capacity and a 10 p.m. cessation of on-site seating.

Stella Shin, MDK Noodles in Koreatown

So what we plan on doing is adding more tables and place stickers to make it so every other table people can sit. Also, if we need more room we will probably utilize the sidewalk again and redecorate it (it got destroyed by the winds so we added new sturdier tents since people saw that we took the tents down they thought we closed dine in).

Jackson Kalb, Ospi in Venice and Jame Enoteca in El Segundo

For Ospi, we have been operating at about 20 percent capacity compared to our max occupancy. My understanding is that outdoor dining will be reduced from 60 percent of indoor capacity to 50 percent of indoor capacity. The new rule seems to be worded in a way that makes it sounds like whatever your current outdoor seating is, it should be cut in half.

If I am wrong, then we are screwed. We were about to bring two new staff members on board. We will do whatever we can to remain open so we can keep our staff employed. But yes, we will have to furlough some people if we have to reduce our seating.

Jame is a different story, and we don’t have an answer yet on what we’re going to do other than rely heavily on take out, as we did during the first shutdown.

Stephen Kalt, Spartina in Melrose

The county has handled the COVID response as well as anywhere in the country. We support it. It’s still a hardship and will no doubt effect our ability to operate and support our staff. We all have to work to get the pandemic to end so we can get our economy running at full speed again. Better safe than sorry.

Ryan Wong, Needle LA in Silver Lake

We’re going to try to keep our patio open for now, but with less seats. I still need to play around with the layout, but I think we will probably end up with four to six seats. Most of our customers actually already do take-away, but the patio is a nice option for the few who want to eat right away. We are really hoping this doesn’t affect us too badly. If anything, it will probably affect our Siu Yeh pop-up more, since more guests tend to want to be present for that. We can only play by ear as things keep evolving.

Vanda Asapahu, Ayara Thai in Westchester

It does not weigh a big effect on our business, we close at 10 p.m. and have only four tables for self seating outside — but we know that for many restaurants already struggling, this is not good. If Angelenos care about the restaurant industry, stay home, wear a mask, and don’t gather! We are adjusting our specials and “events.” Allowing guests to take Moo Krata grill home, and splitting up holiday turkeys and sides so folks can split cost with friends without putting anyone in danger. One more thing: Outdoor dining by 50 percent is a horrible measurement. Around LA, I see restaurants that give more than six feet of clearance and some that are questionable. LA city should provide clearer measures. I could say I had 10 tables, and now have five.

Open dining area at Mitsuwa with yellow chairs and scattered tables with overhanging roof.
Open dining area at Mitsuwa in Torrance
Matthew Kang

Sylvie Gabriele, Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach

The reduction and curfew is a huge financial blow. I did calculations for the curfew. Last seating is at 8 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m. We are talking at least 20 to 30 covers lost per night at $65 per person that’s $39 to 59,000 per month lost in just an hour curfew reduction. The 50 percent reduced capacity will cut sales in half. This means a loss in revenues of a couple hundred thousand dollars. I’m also hugely worried about my staff. How are they going to pay their bills? UI is not what it was at the beginning of the pandemic. Do I keep the excess staff on and pay them out of pocket for a couple of months and lose those dollars too? There is a lot to cope with and solve. Yet I also understand and respect the virus. It’s surging and people’s lives matter more than dollars but it’s a double edge sword.

Dom Crisp, Saso in Pasadena

We’ve never been assigned a capacity for outside. We have a massive lovely patio that has been annexed by us during COVID because the [Pasadena] Playhouse is our partner. That being said we are fortunate to still offer guests six foot distance with 50 seats. We are doing are due diligence to understand what this new policy entails and working with city officials to remain compliant. The curfew is our biggest issue [because] we would like guests to not feel rushed to leave. We will have to adjust our last seating to 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.

Dave Beran, Pasjoli in Santa Monica

With the additional restrictions, eventually we are going to hit a point where it is more expensive to be open and will possibly have to go back to takeout only. There is a minimum amount of labor that it takes to run a restaurant, and a minimum number of guests you have to have to cover the cost of those employees. We are once again pivoting our model as we have done for the last nine months — changing our seating template and adjusting our hours accordingly. We are also spending this week and next re-examining our to go menu at Pasjoli, drawing inspiration from the menu at Tidbits and hoping to make changes to the food and pricing to make it more conducive to in-home dining.

Sam Trude, Great White in Venice

We’ve been working hard to comply with all the changing rules and regulations but it’s very difficult to shift with such short notice in our business, without a severe impact to our staff and our supply chain. Sometimes it feels like our industry is used as the rudder steering this ship — no other industry has been impacted so tumultuously as much as ours has. We’re one of the lucky ones because we have a loyal customers supporting us. Our heart goes other restaurants and industries that aren’t able to open.

Hans Luttman, Rossoblu in Downtown LA

We have been in full support and compliance with keeping our teams and our guests safe at Rossoblu and Superfine Pizza, and will continue to prize safety through this next phase.

Steve Livigni, Caravan Swim Club in Westchester

Honestly, I just feel really sad for all the people that are going to lose their jobs because of less business and for operators that just invested a lot of money winterizing their patios, like my partners, based on what they thought would be a dependable occupancy. I don’t know if there’s even a way to predict how things are going to go but these last minute changes are putting the entire industry through an insane amount of stress and financial turmoil, for everyone involved. I hope smarter minds prevail in the coming months or it’s going to be catastrophic for the restaurant industry.

Outdoor seating at Broad Street Oyster Company in Malibu
Outdoor seating at Broad Street Oyster Company in Malibu
Matthew Kang

Ivan Vasquez, Madre in Torrance, Palms, and West Hollywood

There is no capacity limit on my patio, we only have nine tables in Palms and 30 tables in Torrance. We are enforcing the six feet apart, sanitizing all stations, and providing sanitizing dispenser on all the tables.

With our patio not even getting full we are already at 50 percent capacity. Restaurants like Madre have already spent thousand of dollars in umbrellas, heaters, tables, chairs, grass, lighting, face shields, outdoor barriers, tents, contractor labor cost, canopies, training, sanitizing stations, permits, and licenses.

We were hoping to re-open at 25 percent indoor capacity back in October and it did not happen because the cases went up after Labor Day and more after Halloween. So owners like me started preparing mentally and financially to run our restaurants outdoors only until at least January because there were no signs of improvements in the number of cases.

We spent almost $15,000 in the supplies mentioned above for our three restaurants hoping to survive these months and maximizing our patios with the appropriate restrictions six feet apart, no more than six patrons per table, no more than one hour at the table to avoid people over-drinkin. We have been talking to our neighbors so we can put tables [out] once they close after 5 p.m., and we can keep a safe social distance and increase our revenue while keeping our employees on the payroll and saving our jobs.

We were barely breaking even in one restaurant, the other restaurant was losing money. Now with 50 percent patio capacity we will be not able to make it. In order to run the outdoor patio, you need team members to set up the patio and put it away everyday, you need a minimum number of back of the house and front of the house daily just to open and run the restaurant, we are already running to the minimum and our managers are working sometimes seven days to save labor. We can’t cut more staff because operationally it won’t make sense. You can’t run a shift with one server and one cook; we need a base team each day to operate the establishment. It’s not like our insurance and utilities and rent will decrease 50 percent down. Many restaurants like ours are in a very difficult position now to make it for the next two months with these restrictions.

As far as the curfew, we were already closing at 10 p.m., so no change on that. This 50 percent capacity is brutal for the industry no matter where you are and how big the patio is. Cutting your capacity is like saying goodbye to the possibility of saving your business.

Krissy Lefebvre, Ludobab and Petit Trois

We are doing everything possible to create a safe environment for our guests and employees and will continue to do so.

Caroline Yu, Sun Ha Jang in Koreatown

The 50 percent reduction of outdoor seating feels like another [half-thought] measure to combat COVID-19. This will only slowly bleed out the already fragile state of smaller restaurants. People who ignore the health warnings, flout mask advisories, and fail to think about current conditions need to start listening so we all can get back to enjoying 100 percent of the activities we enjoy.

Connie Cossio, Coni’Seafood in Inglewood

As a small business owner, the state mandate regarding recent closures and capacity limitations have negatively impacted our revenue and have reduced our staff hiring. Based on seasonal trends, we expect lower customer demand during the holidays; eliminating outdoor seating would [further decrease] customer demand. Also, it forces us to reduce our staff. Outdoor seating is crucial to our business as it allows for customers to continue dining in. We understand that sometimes take-out just doesn’t taste the same.

Jeffrey Merrihue, Heroic Italian in Santa Monica

Heroic appreciates the need to fight the current second surge of COVID and indeed think the curfew is a good idea. The restriction on outdoor dining however, makes no sense. All medical studies encourage outdoor activity noting that the vast majority of infections come from under-ventilated indoor activity. Driving people indoors in the middle of the flu season will only make things worse. Also, 95 percent of all outdoor dining is dramatically smaller than the indoor dining it is supposed to augment/replace. This reduction is like splitting a grain of rice into four pieces.

Jon Yao, Kato in West LA

I don’t know what to say ... it’s going to crush us. Our outdoor space is already 50 percent of indoors.