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Here Are California’s Guidelines for Reopening Restaurant Dining Rooms

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Gov. Gavin Newsom says that restaurants are a go once again — if they meet a bunch of important criteria

Governor Gavin Newsom Homeless
California governor Gavin Newsom
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Today California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined “guidelines for reopening in-room dining” at restaurants statewide, paving a path toward a “new normal” in the billion-dollar hospitality industry.

A broad PDF outlining industrywide guidance was released on the state’s COVID-19 support website just moments ago, laying out “guidance for dine-in restaurants, brewpubs, craft distilleries, breweries, bars, pubs, and wineries to support a safe, clean environment for workers and customers.” A more specific checklist of necessary duties and tasks for restaurants was also released, and can be found here.

The guidance notes that restaurants must craft a “workplace specific plan” for how to deal with issues like physical distancing, the use of face masks, sanitary procedures, and more. Restaurants are told to “continue to encourage takeout and delivery service whenever possible,” and bars, nightclubs, distilleries, and other alcohol manufacturers that do not also serve food should remain closed. However:

Brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries that do not provide sit-down meals themselves, but can contract with another vendor to do so, can serve dine-in meals provided both businesses follow the guidance below and alcohol is only sold in the same transaction as a meal.

That means that pop-ups inside of breweries are back on, though large-scale entertainment venues are still closed. Restaurants should also “discontinue tableside food preparation and presentation such as food (item selection carts and conveyor belts, guacamole preparation, etc.).”

As for reservations:

• Encourage reservations to allow for time to disinfect restaurant areas and provide guidance via digital platforms if possible to customers for physical distancing while at the restaurant.

• Consider allowing dine-in customers to order ahead of time to limit the amount of time spent in the establishment.

• Ask customers to wait in their cars or away from the establishment while waiting to be seated. If possible, alert patrons through their mobile phones when their table is ready to avoid touching and use of “buzzers.”

Many restaurants, Newsom said, “are open for takeout, but this would allow patrons to start coming back” to dine inside, though he cautioned that the openings would be phased-in slowly, starting in counties least affected by the coronavirus pandemic. “The statewide order affords the opportunity for local government to come into conformance with those guidelines,” Newsom added, “but one can choose to be a little bit more prescriptive and restrictive. Not everyone is compelled into this phase.”

“It’s going to be very trying, even with these modifications,” Newsom said, for restaurants to survive. “I’m not naive about any of this, and I’m deeply concerned.”

Earlier in the day, Los Angeles County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said that the county’s stay-at-home order would “with all certainty” be extended through July, though she declined to make that an official mandate. The order could also continue on into August while allowing for some limited easing, like this week’s reopening of some beaches within the county, as well as the possibility of allowing dine-in restaurants well before the end of the order.

While taking questions, Newsom also said that the guidelines today “are not static,” meaning specific details like percentages of reduced seating capacity, the increased use of patio dining, and other issues, could be updated as time goes on.

Newsom has long held that “regional variance” could see different counties take different approaches (and at different times) to reopening the California economy, meaning Orange, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties could return to the “new normal” sooner than Los Angeles County, with its 10 million-strong population and larger COVID-19 outbreak. Nearby Riverside County has been pressing to reopen its economy even sooner, while also relaxing physical distancing, face covering, and other mandates there, as county sheriff Chad Bianco has repeatedly stated that he will not enforce state lockdown orders.

Regardless of reopening announcements at the county and state levels, it remains to be seen how comfortable diners are to return to sitting down inside of restaurants and bars in their own neighborhoods. A recent poll out of Emerson College found that just 35 percent of diners would be comfortable eating inside of a restaurant “with some spacing precautions,” and operators themselves aren’t quite sure yet how any new-look restaurant could work and feel during the protracted coronavirus pandemic, particularly with a possible vaccine potentially a year or more away.