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Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Here’s what dining in California will look like when restaurants reopen

New statewide restaurant guidelines will reshape the dining scene in the near future.

Written by
Stephanie Breijo

The future of dining out won’t look the same—not for quite awhile. Today Gov. Gavin Newsom, Cal/OSHA and the California Department of Public Health released a new set of guidelines for full-service restaurants to follow when they reopen, and according to them, even actions as familiar as sitting at a bar or hearing the rattle of dim sum carts will have to wait.

If they’ve met state-set public health requirements, individual counties throughout California can prove to the state that they’re fit to reopen, and, according to Gov. Newsom, a few of the state’s counties could be days or weeks from relaunching dine-in service (two of them, Butte and El Dorado, even meet the requirements today). For counties that don’t meet those requirements, California will move deeper into this phase of the reopening process statewide—though no timeframe has been given for that. While we don’t know when Los Angeles restaurants will relaunch full dine-in service, we do know the experience of visiting a restaurant won’t be as we remember it. 

Even as restaurants and bars reopen and follow these rules, which are subject to change, they're still encouraged to promote takeout and delivery options. The guidance isn’t limited to restaurants, either: It applies to all restaurants, brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries and wineries that offer any type of dine-in meals. Those that don’t, such as breweries and wineries that house taprooms sans food, should follow the new guidance for manufacturers (in other words, they’ll need to offer food in order to welcome guests). Similarly these guidelines don’t apply to concert venues or other entertainment spaces that happen to sell food. 

In addition to recommendations for restaurant employees—such as washing or sanitizing their hands every time they even adjust their masks (which will be required for any employee “e.g., server, manager, busser, food runner, etc. who must be within six feet of customers”)—the guidelines can give us a glimpse of what the future holds for patrons dining out in California in the near future.

From table spacing and a halt on dishes prepared tableside to waiting for your reservation from your car, here are some of the biggest takeaways from today’s announcement. You can find the full dine-in guidance here.

  • Restaurants will need to keep their bar areas closed, even if the restaurant is reopen and drinks are available.

  • Restaurants will need to remove tables and chairs from dining areas so that six feet of physical distance can be maintained for customers and employees. If tables, chairs, booths, etc., cannot be moved, they should use visual cues to show that they are not available for use or install Plexiglas or other types of impermeable physical barriers to minimize exposure between customers.

  • Guests and visitors should be screened for symptoms upon arrival, asked to use hand sanitizer, and to bring and wear a face covering when not eating or drinking.

  • Dine-in customers may be encouraged to order ahead of time to limit the amount of time spent in the establishment.

  • We’ll see a discontinuation of tableside food service and presentation, such as food item selection carts and conveyor belts, guacamole preparation, etc. (which means no more cheese/dim sum/caviar carts for the foreseeable future, either).

  • Restaurants should prioritize and possibly even expand outdoor seating and curbside pickup to minimize cross flow of customers in enclosed environments.

  • We might see the construction of physical barriers or partitions at cash registers, bars, host stands and other areas where maintaining physical distance of six feet is difficult, and floor markings or signs to indicate to where employees and/or guests should stand.

  • Say goodbye to grabbing some ketchup and extra napkins: Restaurants must close self-service areas that offer condiment caddies, utensil caddies, napkins, lids, straws, water pitchers, to-go containers, etc. (These items should now be provided individually to diners.)

  • When it comes to sitting with friends or family, seating will be limited to single tables and for household units or patrons who have asked to be seated together. (People in the same party seated at the same table do not have to be six feet apart.) All members of the party must be present before seating and hosts must bring the entire party to the table at one time.

  • Have leftovers? Takeout containers must be filled by customers and available only upon request.

  • Restaurants may ask customers to wait in their cars or away from the establishment while waiting to be seated, and possibly alert patrons through their mobile phones when their table is ready to avoid touching and use of “buzzers.”

  • Restaurants should offer disposable menus to guests and make menus available digitally so that customers can view on a personal electronic device, if possible.

  • We’ll see installed hand sanitizer dispensers, touchless if possible, at guest and employee entrances and contact areas such as driveways, reception areas, in dining rooms, near elevator landings, etc.

  • Guests should enter through doors that are propped open or automated, if possible. (And for those who do need to touch the door to open it, the restaurant should provide sanitizer upon entering.)

  • And we can expect the discontinued use of shared entertainment items such as board games, pool tables, arcade games, vending machines, etc, as well as closed game and entertainment areas where customers may share items such as bowling alleys, etc. 

While we have yet to gain insight as to when each county will begin moving forward, last week in an address Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that L.A. County and City rules will fall in lockstep with each other, and probably deviate from some of the state’s reopening guidelines. In all likelihood, L.A. restaurants will reopen later than those located in less densely populated areas of California.

Gov. Newsom echoed this sentiment today, saying, “There should be no pressure on the local officials down in L.A. or elsewhere to feel that they have to move in to this space sooner because their conditions are very, very different than the conditions of some of these rural counties.”

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