dine-in sign

More and more restaurant are ready for diners to come inside, sit down and eat. But are the diners ready as well?

"We don’t get many customers," said Pramod Potdar, a server and cashier at India's Restaurant. Noting that many people are still scared, Potdar said some customers sometimes order food to go, then eat it at the restaurant, just because they prefer to use the plastic utensils and disposable food containers.

Over at Fred 62 in Los Feliz, diners are little further along in the process of settling in at a table.

"Yesterday was the first day we had a wait list since this started,” said Ian Hillan, general manager at the Vermont Avenue corner diner. "People are still nervous about coming out."

But a lot of customers are restless to go out - though those first few folks might also be among the more careless, said the manager at Diablo on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, who identified himself only by his first name - Rory.

"I think there’s enough people that gave up on caring on coronavirus," Rory said, "and those are the ones you have to ask to wear a mask."

He said customers are coming back at a reasonable pace probably because his restaurant never stopped doing to-go orders - almost half of which were drinks.

“Restaurants that stopped are having a hard time starting up again,” Rory said. “L.A. is so big, people can forget about you.”

India’s Restaurant, too, developed a system for to-go dinners - to the point where three of the tables are given over exclusively to pick-ups, with one table for Postmates, one for Grubhub, and one for Uber Eats.

“These tables are full,” Potdar said.

New Order

Dining in, however, now means operating in a whole new way.

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The  Tam O’Shanter in Atwater Village - which had been open for takeout - is now closed while the staff receives special training for the new dine-in protocol, including the use of face masks, more frequent hand washing and surface sanitizing, and minimizing tableside contact, according to Liz Pierson, a spokeswoman for the landmark restaurant.

For Diablo, complying with the county’s new protocol for on-site dining adds up to a lot of extra steps, Rory said. A lot of them have to do with cleaning - sanitizing everything after use, including menus.

"Cleaning the backs of chairs - that’s something we never did before," Rory said.

At Fred 62, "All the work we used to do - that times ten," Hillan said.

Counter Service

Also, don’t expect to see a lot of counter service. Neither Fred 62 nor Señor Fish in Echo Park have any, for the same reason: Unless they widen the countertops considerably, it’s impossible to keep six feet of space between the customers and the counter staff. Alicia Ramirez, co-owner of Señor Fish, said it’s only about three or four feet at her Echo Park location.

As for social distancing, most restaurant we talked to have been able to thin out the seating areas relatively simply - either by removing some of the tables or - as at India’s restaurant - seating them in every other booth.

A more difficult challenge is figuring out what to do with employees when you can’t predict, from one day to the next, how many customers you’ll have, or what's going on.

“Staffing is kind of a nightmare,” Hillan said.

Señor Fish’s Eagle Rock location, in fact, is closed for non-COVID-related remodeling, partly by way of keeping the staff busy and on the payroll.

But all of it, step-by-step, leads back to normality.

"It will settle down," Potdar said. "Slowly, slowly."

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