LA County's Restaurant Reopening Has Been Like Trying To Cook A Pot Roast In A Microwave

An employee at a Los Angeles cafe and bakery wears a face mask. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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Do you remember when, after months of dutifully quarantining ourselves, the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced that restaurants could reopen their dining rooms that very same day as long as they followed the county's new guidelines... but they hadn't yet posted these guidelines?

Do you remember when they said health department inspections would not be required before reopening? And also that no health department inspection would happen immediately after reopening? And that restaurants were on "the honor system" to keep patrons and employees safe by complying with those new guidelines?

We do. Because that day — May 29 — marked the moment Los Angeles County moved out of whatever tier or stage of reopening plan we were officially in, and moved unofficially into the "screw it, it had to happen eventually so let's just hope for the best" phase.

It went about as well as you'd expect.


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At a press conference yesterday (Monday, June 15), Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who leads L.A. County's health department, revealed that this past weekend, L.A. County health inspectors visited 2,000 restaurants that had resumed dine-in service — and fully half of them were not complying with the new safety guidelines.

(By the way, Dr. Ferrer didn't share this statistic as part of her update. It only came up because NBC4 reporter Joel Grover asked, near the end of the press conference, about restaurant compliance.)

"People still had concerns, they had confusion, they hadn't quite made the changes," Dr. Ferrer said, referring to the restaurants her inspectors saw.

You don't need to be a public safety official to know that. If you've been out and about, you've likely seen crowds of people thronging restaurants.

The Abbey in West Hollywood prepares to re-open for dine-in service amid the COVID-19 pandemic on May 29, 2020. (VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Last weekend, we saw some restaurants doing a great job of following safety protocols — spacing tables six feet apart, not letting too many patrons in, and making sure people didn't stand too close to each other while waiting in line.

We also saw some restaurants not doing any of that. We heard anecdotal reports (from friends, colleagues, and readers) that some restaurants — from Santa Monica to East Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley to South L.A. — definitely aren't following L.A. County's new safety guidelines.

For every restaurant doing it right, it seemed at least one restaurant was doing it wrong. Dr. Ferrer's statement backs up that observation.

Still, she attempted to reassure Angelenos at Monday's press conference with a cup-half-full approach.

"I want to note that 50% of the restaurants we visited were in complete compliance, which is way up from where we were the first weekend," Dr. Ferrer said.

She said inspectors will this week revisit restaurants that had violated health and safety guidelines, and she urged people to report any potentially unsafe conditions to L.A. County's health department.

We're not trying to shame anyone.

The restaurant business has never been harder. As anyone who has ever worked any sort of customer service job can tell you, the customer is not always right. Businesses can't 100% control what their customers do, and part of the task of staying safe falls on patrons. But L.A. County moved extremely fast (same day — see above) to reopen dine-in restaurant service, and this sort of widespread noncompliance with its safety guidelines is an unsurprising consequence.

So be careful out there.

Be rigorous about wearing your mask when you go into restaurants.

Don't be impatient if you have to wait in line.

Avoid places that look too crowded.

If you're going to dine in, sit as far away from other customers as humanly possible.

Be nice to servers and other restaurant staff.

And tip generously, like we're still in the middle of a pandemic, because we are.