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LA’s New Restaurant Rules Are Shaping Up Ahead of Full June 15 Reopening

Who will have to still wear a mask, and when? What will social distancing look like? Can to-go cocktails continue?

Arroyo Seco, rainbow trout, endangered, Pasadena Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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.

As California rushes towards a “full” June 15 reopening, state and city officials are beginning to outline the new guidance that restaurants, workers, and diners will all need to follow. That includes updated (and likely permanent) rules about selling alcoholic beverages to go and news about parklets and al fresco dining spaces, in addition to temporary measures put in place by California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, also known as Cal/OSHA. Let’s take a look.

First up: booze. In March 2020, California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) reversed decades of policy by temporarily approving cocktails, beer, and wine for takeout and delivery service, so long as drinks were served with food. The change provided a lifeline for struggling restaurants that were forced to close or severely limit operations during the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. There’s legislation in the State Assembly to make this change permanent — and Governor Newsom supports it publicly — but State Bill 398 is not up for a vote yet.

Parklet dining areas have also proven popular during the pandemic. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti introduced his al fresco dining program in May 2020, and said in April of this year that he wanted to make many of them permanent — and as it turns out, Newsom feels the same way. In an interview with Eater SF, Newsom said, “We don’t want to go back to normal. Normal was never good enough … parklets [and to-go cocktails] have saved bars and restaurants through the pandemic, and they have revitalized neighborhoods, and we want to keep that going for years and years.”

As for Cal/OSHA, the seven-member panel ruled yesterday that if any employee at a workplace (including restaurants) is unvaccinated, all workers must wear masks if working in the same room, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. If all workers are vaccinated, masks are not required. KPCC reporter Jackie Fortiér tweeted that employers will be required to maintain the vaccination status of workers, though the panel did not specify how this will work logistically. Fortiér also noted that physical distancing remains in effect until the end of July in most workplaces, particularly indoors, though again the details have yet to be firmly ironed out. As part of the nine-hour meeting, industry and lobbying groups laid out their concerns, ranging from barriers to requirements for customers after June 15.

It’s important to note here that while California will maintain its own guidance at the state level, the County of Los Angeles and its associated departments of public health could very likely come up with rules of their own. Yesterday, LA County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said her department will issue guidelines as soon as next week for businesses and restaurants, touching on mask-wearing, social distancing, workplace requirements for employees, and the like.

“We recognize that many businesses may want to continue some public health measures for the safety of their workers and their customers,” said Dr. Ferrer. “So we will be posting best practices next week to help businesses make plans.” She added: “I do want to be clear that we are fully aligning with the state, we are fully aligning with Cal/OSHA. But we will provide some guidance to many of the business sectors as they begin to figure out what makes sense in their particular location or at their particular site.” That’s all to say: More to come.