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California’s Biggest Restaurant Lobbying Group Proposes These Reopening Guidelines

The California Restaurant Association recommends temperature checks, sanitation methods, and table distancing

Mo Ran Gak restaurant’s closed dining room in Garden Grove, California
Mo Ran Gak restaurant’s closed dining room in Garden Grove, California
Wonho Frank Lee
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

The state’s influential restaurant lobbying group, the California Restaurant Association, published reopening recommendations for the food service industry last night. The reopening plan outlines safeguards for restaurants to operate in a post-coronavirus world, which includes taking employee temperatures, reduced dining capacity, and installing plastic walls to separate tables.

The California Restaurant Association submitted the plan to governor Gavin Newsom today. The California Governor maintains a Monday through Friday briefing schedule at noon, and the hospitality industry anticipates details for restaurants to emerge as early as this afternoon. Reopening details beyond closed dining rooms have been scarce as of late, with local and state officials focusing on reopening other industries through phases.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the CRA’s recommendations, which were developed in partnership with the California Conference of Local Health Officers and the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health. The group’s plan focuses on four areas: employee health, social distancing, public education, and improved sanitation/disinfection. According to AP, the CRA’s plan recommends that cities and counties determine the rules. Some recommendations are listed below:

  • Requiring temperature checks for restaurant employees
  • Mandatory hand-washing schedules for food workers, and face coverings for employees who interact with the public
  • Appropriate distance between customers, or set up barriers between tables
  • Tables limited to family and household members in one table, and must not exceed 10 people
  • Restaurants can utilize a phone or text-based reservation system, meaning customers wait outside until the table is ready

One notable issue here is that the CRA did not recommend a percentage-based capacity reduction, which is what states such as Texas and Florida have implemented with a 25% dining room capacity. Texas cities have begun allowing full capacity for outdoor patios. Instead, the CRA only recommends an appropriate distance between customers, or barriers between tables.

Restaurant owners have been waiting for reopening guidelines after Newsom mandated the closure of dining rooms on March 19. After hearing the CRA’s recommendations, Grant Smillie, owner of E.P. & L.P. and forthcoming Strings of Life in West Hollywood finds the situation dire. “It’s a case of adapt or die,” says Smillie. “The sooner we accept that we have to figure out a way to impart energy into a half-full restaurant, the sooner we can get the semblance of an opening plan together. For some venues, that just won’t be possible. For staff returning to work, being subjected to temperature checks and a rigorous schedule of hygiene checks will become the norm. I’m not going to lie — for us operators, we’re in for the fight of our lives until such time as a therapeutic or vaccine is present.”

Francesco Zimone, owner of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, finds his spacious courtyard suitable for social distancing, but finds other problems with the recommendations. “The only problem we see is to limit family members to seat at the same table,” says Zimone. “We would be happy to double up our tables so to create six feet of distance between guests sitting at the same table. Our landlord has agreed on taking it one step at the time to make sure business will not be hurt in an unbearable way.”

This is the CRA’s second outreach to Newsom’s office. In March, the lobby group said the current shelter-in-place order for all of California could cause as much as 30 percent of the state’s restaurants to permanently close, and recommended putting the state’s planned minimum wage increase on hold.