Restaurants Can Reopen Friday With Restrictions — But What Will They Be?
Additional reporting by Elina Shatkin, Monica Bushman and Gabriel Dunatov.
When restaurants are allowed to resume outdoor dining on Friday, those in Los Angeles County will have to follow various pandemic-related safety measures, but they won't know what those measures are until at least Thursday afternoon.
"It's going to be limited capacity. We're probably going to tell them to close at 10 p.m., take reservations. Maybe we're going to say people can only sit at the tables ... [for] 90 minutes," L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn speculated to Take Two.
On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom lifted the state's stay-at-home order. L.A. County followed suit, lifting restrictions on public gatherings and retail services the same day. County officials announced restaurants will be able to resume outdoor dining on Friday. The suddenness of the decision surprised many people, including some restaurant owners.
"I have to say we were all pretty shocked and a little bit overwhelmed at how sudden that decision came," Susan Feniger, co-owner and co-chef of the Border Grill in downtown Los Angeles and Socalo in Santa Monica, told Take Two.
Hahn says county officials allowed these activities to resume because projections suggest the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations will decrease as more people get vaccinated.
"We've been threading this needle between preserving the public's health and preserving people's livelihoods and jobs," Hahn said. "It's been a very tough place to be in."
That doesn't mean every restaurant will be rushing to throw open its doors.
Many restaurant owners are planning to wait out the weekend — especially since we're expecting a rainstorm — and evaluate the new safety protocols before they do anything.
"We are not going to open this weekend," Feniger told Take Two. "We want to take the next four, five, six days and evaluate. Is it 50% dining outside? What, if any, are the new restrictions coming in? We know what the restrictions were so we would be ready to do that, but we want to make sure we have the right things in place before we open back up."
Previously, restaurant patios could be open at 50% capacity, but at a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Barbara Ferrer, the director of Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health, said there will be additional requirements for restaurants to reopen outdoor dining this time around.
"Our teams are meeting with restaurant owners and with the labor unions, representing restaurant workers this afternoon, and we'll be talking with them about the new requirements for safety," Ferrer said. "But yes, there will be some new requirements."
Ferrer said the health department will probably release new guidelines for restaurants late Thursday afternoon.
Hahn, who opposed L.A. County's decision to halt outdoor dining last November, also said local officials will put more teeth into enforcement.
The Board of Supervisors just gave county lawyers permission to increase the fines for restaurants that don't comply with health orders. Health inspectors will be able to issue fines and citations, or even revoke a restaurant's permit if it flouts these protocols.
"We just gave our lawyers in L.A. County permission to begin raising the fines on people who do not comply [with] our health orders," Hahn said. "But it does take a complaint for us to follow up on. We don't have enough health inspectors to just troll the streets every night."
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