Good News for L.A. Restaurants? The County Set to Reopen Outdoor Dining

On Monday, January 25th Governor Newsom lifted regional stay-at-home orders across California. This, in effect, gives the reigns back over to individual counties for them to decide how to monitor COVID-19 cases and manage capacity restrictions.

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Fresh Start for a New Year

If you run a restaurant in L.A. County, you’re looking at outdoor dining as soon as this weekend—with capacity restrictions in place, of course. With a 50% limit in place, restaurants will be able to seat customers on the patio, along cordoned-off sidewalks and in the parking lot assuming they have the proper setup that balances comfort, inviting atmosphere and safety.

Is it too good to be true? Yes and no. There’s no telling how long the relaxed orders will last, as officials have sworn to go back to full-scale restrictions if cases and hospitalizations worsen. In the meantime, L.A. is still entrenched in some of the highest infection and death rates in the entire country. Although case rates and hospitalizations have decreased slightly over the past few weeks, they’re still alarmingly high with local hospitals stretched to their limits and ICU beds constantly at capacity. Whatever “projected progress” these reopening decisions were based on will surely be lost and then some as soon as we let 50% of people dine out like normal.

Experts Weigh In

So why is it even allowed? If it were up to health officials, it wouldn’t be. Back in November, the matter was taken to court where a judge ruled that the county didn’t have sufficient reason to close outdoor restrictions based solely on the risk of extra transmission due to being maskless around other diners. The judge wanted a risk-benefit analysis of how halting outdoor dining will tangibly help. By the time he made the ruling, however, the point was already moot; Governor Newsom had laid down statewide stay-at-home orders, so nonessential businesses couldn’t open regardless.

With the stricter rules lifting around California, L.A. County is now in an interesting predicament: If health officials want to keep things shut down, they’ll need to work a lot harder to do it. The court ruling affects their available next steps, and as such they’ve agreed to reissue a new order on Friday that aligns with the state and what the court had to say, which is also why outdoor dining is projected to restart this weekend rather than immediately.

A Reinvigorated Restaurant Scene

Besides, restaurants need time to prepare. A lot of them, like other California small businesses that will soon restart if their region permits it, are excited to get back to serving sit-down meals where they can reliably acquire revenue, particularly given how there’s no telling when the next lockdown is going to come and throw that now-familiar wrench in the works. That said, they’re naturally just as frustrated as consumers with the constant back-and-forth. It’s expensive to close operations down tight only to have to deep-clean and have another grand opening next week, but without sufficient financial aid, reopening outdoor seating looks pretty good right about now.

Restaurants are joined by rec centers, casinos, zoos and aquariums as other nonessential businesses who’ll be able to offer outdoor services soon, at the same 50% capacity. Meanwhile hair and nail salons can operate limitedly indoors, certain children’s activities will resume, and outdoor gatherings are no longer banned for up to fifteen people converging from two separate quarantine bubbles.

Whether this is the beginning of another rollercoaster or the start of a long road to recovery, only time will well. For now L.A. County restaurants are excited to get back to work this weekend so if you’re in the area, vaccinated or willing to risk it, help out local businesses by grabbing your first bite out to eat in a long while.

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