Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti appeared to advise his Southern California constituents to avoid dining inside restaurants yesterday during a press conference on the novel coronavirus. “If you were going to go out to dinner, maybe you don’t go out to dinner,” he said before adding, “but order out of that restaurant. Let’s prop up those local businesses that are here in Los Angeles.”
Garcetti touched on a number of different topics during the nearly 50-minute press conference, including an appeal for federal funding, the possibilities of city council measures to help alleviate the dire economic straits that many small business owners now find themselves in, and the notion that, when possible, those shopping and dining should continue to think locally.
Regarding ordering food to go from a restaurant near his home, he said: “I’m certainly going to do that with my family tonight. Order locally, because doing those things can help LA businesses and LA workers stay strong.” The comment came at the 11:30 mark of the below video.
Many restaurants are reporting that they have seen an increase in delivery and takeaway orders, demand that could grow in the next few days and weeks. Some Los Angeles icons that have never previously offered delivery or takeout service have been pressed to do so not only as a way of keeping customers safe, but as an economic safeguard against plummeting sales and quieter dining rooms. In New York City, officials have already demanded that restaurants and bars under 500 seats trim their capacity by 50 percent as part of citywide social distancing tactics meant to quell the spread of COVID-19.
Delivery and takeout is a not a cure-all for the economic pressures being put on small businesses by the novel coronavirus, however. Many diners rely on apps like GrubHub, Postmates, and Seamless when ordering food (instead of contacting the restaurants directly), and those companies can often charge hefty percentages back to the restaurants, all but wiping out any possible profits — though there has been a growing social media push to have all delivery apps waive their fees temporarily during the pandemic. What’s more, takeout and delivery food simply shifts the service model, meaning lots of front of house staffers may still find themselves with fewer hours, lower tips, or no work at all. Some of LA’s biggest restaurant dining rooms are feeling particularly vulnerable because of a general avoidance of crowds, leading restaurants to thin out tables to give diners more space.
To be clear, the government has not ordered anyone to stay away from restaurant dining rooms or bars, as has been done in Italy. Within the context of his statement, Mayor Garcetti merely advised precaution. Still, it’s a tough comment during a time of heightened tensions and lowered financial forecasting, especially for a local restaurant industry that has already seen places close, delay their openings, drastically cut hours, or rethink their business models as a result of COVID-19. For those who do choose to turn to delivery while still supporting their local restaurants, here’s a handy map of places adapting to coronavirus with new off-premises options.