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Restaurants Can Resume Outdoor Dining — With These Restrictions

A man carries a takeout food order as he walks past temporary outdoor restaurant seating in Burbank on November 23, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
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The wait is over. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has revealed the restrictions restaurants must follow if they want to resume outdoor dining service, which they can do tonight (aka Friday, Jan. 29).

The protocols will be familiar to restaurateurs that had previously been offering outdoor service, but now the rules are even more stringent. Let's take a look.

  • Employees who might come into contact with customers must wear a cloth face covering and a face shield.
  • Outdoor tables must be at least 8 feet apart (it used to be 6 feet).
  • Outdoor dining must be limited to no more than 6 people per table, and they must all be from the same household.
  • All establishments offering outdoor dining must post signs and verbally inform customers that everyone sharing a table must be from the same household.
  • Outdoor dining and wine service seating must be reduced to 50% capacity.
  • Restaurants can't have televisions or other screens broadcasting any type of programming for customers. (This seems like an attempt to prevent gatherings of sports fans during events such as the Super Bowl.)
  • Breweries and wineries that don't have a restaurant public health permit can offer outdoor, on-premises food and beverage service IF they adhere to all the protocols required of restaurants AND contract with a caterer, restaurant or "mobile food facility" (i.e. a food truck) to provide "bona fide meals." (Don't try to throw some warmed up shreddy cheese on top of stale tortilla chips and call it a meal, okay?).

Those are the big changes, although the 11-page document includes several other details and clarifications.
For example, the term "household" does not include dormitories, fraternities, sororities, residential care facilities, boarding houses, hotels, motels, convents or monasteries. So large groups of nuns or monks cannot dine out in L.A. County. Glad we've solved that raging problem.

The county is also getting more specific about the space between tables. Perhaps you had seen restaurant patrons who were sitting barely a foot apart from each other while at two different tables and wondered how that was allowed under the previous 6-foot outdoor dining rule. County officials had the same qualms.

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The new guidelines say that tables in the outdoor seating area must be arranged to allow for 8 feet distance between them, as measured from the edge of one table to the next. This ensures that, "A physical distance of at least 6 feet between customers and workers is achieved while customers are seated" and allows "for passing room between tables and to account for chairs being occupied by customers and pushed out while at the table."

Hopefully, the resumption of outdoor dining will go better than the first time Los Angeles County officials allowed restaurants to reopen during the pandemic. Because that was, to quote ourselves, "Like Trying To Cook A Pot Roast In A Microwave."

On May 29, 2020, the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced that restaurants could reopen their dining rooms that day as long as they followed the county's new guidelines — but county officials didn't reveal those guidelines until a couple hours before reopening.

Surprising no one except maybe the health department, we initially saw widespread non-compliance with these safety protocols.

This time, restaurants have known since Monday they can resume outdoor dining (although some are are going to hold off), the rules aren't brand new and they have five or six hours to prepare for them. So that's an improvement, right?