Both the City and County of Los Angeles have mandated that all restaurants eliminate outdoor dining for three weeks starting the day before Thanksgiving.
They can offer delivery, take out and drive-thru pick up, but no in-person consumption of meals on site. This is meant to curb the increase of COVID-19 cases in the city,
So far, this places the burden of cutting coronavirus cases solely on food establishments. Restaurant owners say they can hardly be the only venues responsible for the dramatic increase in infection rates. What does it mean to local restaurants that up until now have been offering outdoor dining?
Nicolas Montoya, owner of Los Toros restaurant said, “So our leaders in their infinite wisdom tell us that we are to cease in-person dining. Yet they allow stores like Walmart, Costco and other grocery stores to pack us in like sardines without any social distancing. Our leaders allow us to dine in tents with no circulation yet there are some places with patios with open ceilings, fans and air conditioning that are dismissed without a thought. The ‘curfew’ our leaders set is supposed to help prevent the spread of the virus. I wish someone would tell me how that is. I bet they don’t even know. So if we go out past 10 pm we’re more susceptible? If we sit with more than six people we’re more susceptible?”
Accord to Donal Tavey, owner of the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, “Sagebrush will adjust and adapt like we have been doing this past 10 months. We have a fantastic loyal staff and a great community that supports us. We will not buckle no matter what they throw at us.Yesterday our fearless leaders announced another lockdown. Today we need to decide who to lay off, who can we afford to keep paying and who is expendable. How can we innovate and stay within the ever changing rules? What can we do differently to keep as many employed as possible? I just feel sad that with Christmas coming our families will have to do with less.”
Most restaurants that were planning to serve Thanksgiving have already placed their orders and laid in supplies for diners they now can’t serve. They have spent thousands on meeting the requirements for outdoor dining and now have no way of earning back that money.
It is more than restaurant owners and managers that are upset. The Independent Hospitality Coalition in Los Angeles, which represents restaurants and their employees, released a statement questioning the decision by health officials without “any scientific proof that community spread of COVID-19 has increased due to socially-distant outdoor dining. By banning all outdoor dining during these colder winter months, people will instead host more indoor parties, which will undoubtedly lead to more infections. Furthermore, curfews and outdoor dining restrictions have only exacerbated the problem and pushed more social gatherings indoors,” the coalition said.
Some county officials have also voiced their opposition to the outdoor dining restriction. Among them is Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents Valley neighborhoods and is chair of the Board of Supervisors. “These proposed measures by the Department of Public Health will further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year,” Barger said in a statement. “Businesses throughout the county have invested thousands of dollars to ensure safety for their employees and customers only to be punished for the recent surge they have done everything in their power to prevent.”
For now, we have to adjust to the mandate from the city. If the burden continues to fall on the shoulders of the food service community, the city risks an uprising from restaurant owners the likes of which we haven’t before seen.
Laura Levinsky is a life-long resident of the Valley and Valley News Group columnist.