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What to Know About LA County’s Strict New Restaurant Guidelines

Social distancing in the kitchen, masks on masks, and more strict details to adhere to in LA County’s newest guidelines

Manufactory workers making bread in a bakery.
Workers in a bakery space
Wonho Frank Lee

Though it already seems like a lifetime ago, the County of Los Angeles managed to release its full list of restaurant reopening guidelines late on Friday night — just hours after telling operators that they could once again welcome diners inside. With no firm safety guidance from officials, restaurants from Santa Monica to Downtown to Hollywood to the Valley flung open their doors, desperate for more business after months of lockdowns, pandemic fears, and the slow decline of takeout-and-delivery-only models.

The full guidance, first posted by Time Out Los Angeles, can now be accessed by operators and curious diners here, and is below in .pdf form. It’s a dense document (though not as bulging as the city of Los Angeles’s 17-page checklist for reopening) and represents the first real peek at what dining — and working — in a Los Angeles restaurant will look, feel, sound, and taste like from now until the virus is under control.

In short, expect greatly reduced capacity inside of restaurants, as well as fewer staff and more limited communal experiences, no live entertainment, no table-side food preparations, no salsa bar, no shared condiments, and a lot of disposable products including silverware and menus. Servers will wear face coverings and face shields simultaneously, and the sommelier likely won’t be coming around to sniff corks or pour by the glass — and no water refills, either.

Communal seating is all the way out, as is the vast majority of bar seating inside restaurants, and only six or fewer diners per party. Outdoor dining is okay with a six foot distance between seats (charts are included in the guidelines), and reservations will be more important than ever to keep customers from congregating in lines or around the front door.

Here are a few key highlights from the mandatory checklist:

  • Symptom checks are conducted before employees may enter the workspace. Checks must include a check-in concerning cough, shortness of breath or fever and any other symptoms the employee may be experiencing.
  • All employees who have contact with the public or other employees during their shift(s) must be offered, at no cost, a cloth face covering. The covering is to be worn by the employee at all times during the workday
  • Face shields, which must be provided by the restaurant, are required for wait staff and other employees when servicing customers who are not wearing a face covering. (The face shield must be worn in addition to the staff’s cloth face covering.)
  • Indoor in-person dining occupancy capacity is not to exceed 60 percent of prior maximum seating capacity
  • Bar areas may open to customers to serve food with the purchase of alcohol if they can adhere to the 6-foot physical distancing requirements — this includes maintaining 6 feet of distance from employee work or food or drink preparation areas
  • Entertainment operations (live music, etc.) are prohibited
  • Food preparation employees are discouraged from changing or entering others’ workstations during shifts
Holcomb wine bar with dim lights in Highland Park, Los Angeles.
Diners sit at a bar.
Wonho Frank Lee

Employees should plan wearing lots of personal protective equipment, having only one person per shift rolling all of the silverware, and not eating or drinking anywhere inside the restaurant except for an approved and sanitized break room. Oh, and plan on physical distancing even while working side by side on the line. Somehow.

The Los Angeles County restaurant reopening guidelines are currently in effect across greater LA, though many restaurants remain closed today following three straight days of protests and occasional destruction in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Monday. Downtown, Fairfax, Melrose, Santa Monica, and other areas have been heavily burdened by protestors, militarized police, and instances of looting and vandalism. Many restaurant operators, fresh off a weekend that was supposed to bring some happy reopening news, now say they simply don’t know what they’ll do next.

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