Today’s the day. For weeks, restaurants around Los Angeles have been confined to takeout and delivery service only, as coronavirus cases skyrocketed and COVID-19 deaths surged around Southern California, dropping intensive care unit bed capacity to effectively zero and running healthcare workers to their limits. Now those numbers are projected to begin a steady decreases as LA emerges from its worse wave of pandemic cases yet, at least according to state public health officials who announced the reopening of on-site outdoor dining and a return to the previously-used color-coded, multi-tiered lockdown system first implemented last summer.
That’s all to say: Outdoor dining is back in Los Angeles County today. So what the heck are the rules for restaurants this time around?
For one, outdoor seating capacity is capped at 50 percent of previous levels, a return to the same limitations placed on restaurants just before the broader lockdowns in late November 2020. Restaurants with an established certificate of occupancy have a limit to the number of people that they are allowed to safely seat, meaning even those spots that managed to earn new permitting under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Al Fresco program have a new, firm number of diners that can be sat at any given time.
Plenty of operators without previous outdoor seating have opted instead to simply throw some tables and chairs onto the sidewalk without permitting during the ongoing pandemic, but beware: Los Angeles County health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer has said that enforcement of coronavirus-related protocols will be more robust this time around, meaning infractions could be levied against restaurants who are over-seating customers.
Second, the space limits between tables has increased, from six feet to eight feet as measured by the edges of each table, a significant increase in available open air that’s meant to curb diners from still sitting essentially back to back outside, unmasked, while eating — even if the tables themselves are properly distanced. Group sizes are capped at six people per table, and they should all live within the same household.
Speaking of edges, County public health officials will also be looking more closely at all tented and otherwise semi-restrictive outdoor builds to ensure proper ventilation. No matter the size, tents or structures can have a roof but must be open to the air on at least three sides in order to remain in compliance with the county protocols. That also means no Plexiglass barriers more than three feet high as measured from the ground; it’s all about ventilation.
Another big enforcement issue this time around will be the proper use of all personal protective equipment. As before, servers will need to wear both a face mask (can be cloth) and a face shield, and that mandate has now been extended to anyone who interacts with diners, including runners, bussers, and all front of house personnel. Given the more transmissible new strains of coronavirus going around right now, expect this one to receive particular scrutiny from visiting public health officials in the coming weeks.
The county has also said no (again) to any live entertainment (including DJs and bands), and that includes televisions — so no Super Bowl parties. Furthermore: “Restaurants may not host receptions, banquets, or other coordinated, organized or invited events or gatherings.” Oh, and no fun tableside preparations or shows like salad spinning or guacamole making, either.
The full list of necessary COVID-19 protocols can be found here, as part of the county’s just-updated public health order. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot more to know about cleaning timelines, staggered shifts to keep employees from interacting too closely, the use of Plexiglass barriers, and more.