So L.A. County is finally allowing restaurants to once again offer outdoor dining starting Friday. And all the restaurants have to do is just set up tables and go right back into business. Is it really going to be that simple?
No. Nothing is that simple when it comes to the complex and ever changing pandemic public health orders. Ever.
Even though the county is giving the okay, some restaurants are still wondering whether it’s safe yet to seat customers. Plus, if they add outdoor seating, does that mean another business loses a parking space? And lest we forget, outdoor seating was allowed before and then taken away after time and money were spent.
“I don’t feel like it’s safe for our staff”
In fact, some restaurant owners are not ready to resume serving customers outdoors.
“We’re going to remain for takeout and delivery only,” said Ian Hillan, general manager at Fred 62 in Los Feliz, who noted high numbers recently of positive COVID test rates. “I don’t feel like it’s safe for our staff.”
The restaurant already shut down for a couple of weeks because of positive test results among the staff. So Fred 62 still won’t be bringing back the ample outdoor seating at their corner location - even though, yes, they are losing money this way.
“The money we’re losing is a trickle,” Hillan said. “It’s not a hemorrhage.”
Over in Silver Lake, Raymond Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas said they would be opening outdoor dining again at Spoon and Pork.
But they, too, had their doubts.
“We think it’s rushed again, just like the last time they lifted the orders,” they said in an email about the county’s decision to lift the ban for on-site dining. “The difference is now the numbers are greater than the first shutdown. … We feel they might shutdown again in a couple of months. It costs us money. Money that we don’t have to reopen, close then reopen again.”
Back in Los Feliz, La Pergoletta on Hillhurst has long had its own outdoor dining space, and had already expanded it within their parking lot before the last shutdown.
But one problem for owner Paolo Seganti - who also has a location in Silver Lake - is just getting the old staff back.
“Most people I called found other jobs or moved out of state,” he said. Others simply found it comfortable enough - and safer - to remain on unemployment, Seganti said.
And one other question for Seganti: Will the customers follow the rules? After a long period of repression, the infection rates could go right back up if people don’t handle things correctly.
“I hope people are not going nuts like they did before and are conscientious and do it right - the restaurateurs and customers as well.”
Felipe and Ignacio Santiago over at Xtiosu Kitchen in Boyle Heights shared that concern.
“We know this is not a universal attitude: to wear face masks and be cautious, so we are not yet sure that we will open our outside seating area,” they said. “Boyle Heights is especially hard hit by COVID, so we might want to do our part by continuing to focus our energy on take-out orders only.”
Another complication is that outdoor dining happens to be returning just in time for L.A.’s rainy season.
Casita Del Campo in Silver Lake is opening its main outdoor patio in the adjacent parking lot on Friday at 11 am with umbrella tents for the rain, according to the owner Robert Del Campo.
And on top of all that … what are the rules? At least as of today? The guidelines for running outdoor dining have been confusing and inconsistent, some restauranteurs say. LA County public health officials say they won't have their final set updated regulations ready until Thursday night.
“We are also left on our own to figure things out,” said Yaptinchay and Tugas at Spoon and Pork. “There has been no guidance this entire pandemic.”
“We’re looking forward to what will hopefully be a much more coordinated and consistent effort to support small businesses during this challenging time,” said Xandre Borghetti general manager of Nossa in Los Feliz.
And what happens if the rules change once again - and outdoor dining is shut back down?
“I have to focus on what is happening now,” Del Campo said. “It has been quite the roller coaster, but with good leadership and a positive attitude, we have been able to keep all our employees and they are excited to start working with customers again.”
Additional reporting by Melody Waintal.