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LA Restaurants Now Have Guidelines For Whenever They Reopen Their Dining Rooms — But That Won't Be Anytime Soon

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People eat lunch at a street food restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand on May 7, 2020. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)
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Southern California restaurants aren't likely to reopen for dine-in seating any time soon but when they do, eating out will look totally different than it did in the Before Times.

You might have to place your order in advance, even if you're dining in. Dining rooms will probably be much emptier. The bar areas of most restaurants will likely remain closed. And you almost certainly won't be able to watch your waiter prepare tableside guacamole or Caesar salad (we miss you, La Parrilla and Dal Rae).

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Although only two of California's 58 counties — Butte and El Dorado — are currently able to move deeper into Phase Two of the state's reopening plan, more counties are looking to modify their stay-at-home orders. When they do, here are some of the rules that officials want restaurants to follow, according to guidelines released today by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Let's clarify: California is NOT requiring restaurants to abide by these guidelines. Many restaurant reopening rules will be set at the county and local level. This is a buffet of options that authorities can choose to implement as they loosen stay-at-home orders.

"None of this means anything if customers don't feel safe," Newsom said in a press conference today. "And none of this matters if employees don't feel safe and don't want to come back to work. I don't see the issue of economic opening and growth disconnected from health."

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A waiter serves customers at a cafe in Palma de Mallorca on May 11, 2020 as Spain moved towards easing its strict lockdown in certain regions. (Jaime Reina/AFP via Getty Images)

IN THE DINING ROOM

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Here are some of the big front-of-house changes restaurants might have to make to restore dine-in eating:

  • Prioritize and potentially expand outdoor seating.
  • Reconfigure dining rooms to allow for at least six feet of distance between tables — and between people who are dining, working or passing through entrances and exits.
  • Install physical barriers or partitions at cash registers, bars and host stands.
  • Require reservations and space out the timing of these reservations so employees can disinfect areas of the restaurant before seating a new party.
  • Ask customers to stay in their cars or away from the restaurant while they wait to be seated.
  • Allow dine-in customers to order in advance so they spend less time inside a restaurant.
  • Require patrons to wear face coverings when they're not eating or drinking.
  • Provide disposable menus to dine-in customers.
  • Limit the number of patrons at a table to people living in the same household or people who have asked to be seated together (i.e. no communal tables).
  • Limit the number of employees who serve individual parties.
  • Don't put out shared items such as condiment bottles or salt and pepper shakers.
  • Require patrons to fill their own takeout containers (i.e. you'll have to put your own leftovers in a to-go box).
  • Prioritize curbside pickup and delivery over dine-in eating.

BACK OF HOUSE

What about back-of-house suggestions, the stuff that impacts employees but customers often don't see?

California officials want restaurants to come up with an overall safety plan for their establishment and train all employees in it. The document includes specific recommendations.

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A waiter wearing gloves as a preventive measure against COVID-19, sets up a table at a restaurant in Medellín, Colombia on March 16, 2020. (Joaquín Sarmiento/AFP via Getty Images)
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Here are some of the big back-of-house changes restaurants might have to make to restore dine-in eating:

  • Take employees' temperatures and/or screen them for symptoms at the beginning of their shift.
  • Encourage workers who are sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home.
  • Provide employees with face coverings and gloves and make sure they use them.
  • Provide disposable gloves to servers, bussers and other workers who move dirty dishes or handle trash bags.
  • Provide dishwashers with gear that protects their eyes, nose and mouth from contaminant splash.
  • Frequently clean high-traffic areas and surfaces, which might include entrances, exits, bathrooms, door handles, crash bars, light switches, ATM PIN pads and receipt trays.
  • Give employees time to implement cleaning practices during their shifts.
  • Disinfect tables, chairs, booster seats, highchairs and booths between each customer dining location after every use.

WILL CUSTOMERS COME BACK?

Whatever regulations are put in place for dine-in eating, will customers feel comfortable returning to restaurants? If they feel safe, will they have money to go out? And if they do, will they want to jump through all these hoops to sit in a restaurant for a dining experience that feels nothing like it once did? That's uncharted territory.

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