It has been so long since we’ve all been able to go into a restaurant, sit down and just … eat there.
But public health officials have been opening the doors again, county by county, albeit in a restricted and measured way. And now L.A. and Eastside restaurant owners and staffs are getting ready to seat customers under a new set of guidelines when they are given the go-ahead.
If they can figure out how and whether it makes financial sense.
One major change and challenge is that restaurants won't be able to seat as many people as they did before to meet social distancing guidelines
In Echo Park, El Compadre on Sunset Boulevard - which normally has a maximum capacity of 190 - will only be able to seat around 70 or 75, said George Jimenez, whose family owns the restaurant. Ramen of York in Highland Park - which normally has 13 tables - will reduce to about half that number, said the manager, Bryson Uyehara. And Momed Atwater Village will try to keep at least 50 percent of their normal capacity, said the owner, Alex Sarkissian
“Any less than that, and it won’t be worth opening,” Sarkissian said.
The state of California has issued 12 pages of guidelines for restaurants that want to resume dine-in service - and the state is opening up more services in less densely populated counties.
The guidelines can get pretty specific. Take condiments, for example. The new rules say that things like mustard and ketchup - as well as salt and pepper - should be provided in single serve containers, or else bottles should be supplied only as needed, then disinfected after each use.
Restaurant owners and managers are also figuring out how to reconfigure the front of the house to meet the new standards. El Compadre is putting up partitions between tables, Jimenez said, and Ramen of York is thinking of doing the same, Uyehara said. Momed has to put up plexiglass separators at the cafe counter.
“We’re also going to be buying back all the toilet people we gave out,” Sarkissian joked.
Momed and Millie’s will also be taking advantage of the outside seating areas at their businesses. But before that happens at Momed, employees have to clean up the area, Sarkissian said. With reduced staff, and a railroad track running right nearby, the large patio became dusty from two months of disuse.
Methods of payment may also change. Indeed, they already have. Like many restaurants that have continued some kind of service throughout the quarantine, Millie’s has polished its system for ordering and paying online. So now that people can order and pay through their phone, Babish said, why not let them keep doing that even while they’re actually sitting in the restaurant?
But for now, Babish said he’s not making any big moves yet, since the situation seems to change from day to day. While there’s talk of opening up many things throughout California in June, officials told the L.A. Times that Los Angeles probably won’t open up until July.
Even the state guidelines indicate the rules may change, and they advise businesses to stay current on the latest standards as the COVID-19 situation continues. That has restaurateurs, like Robert Babish of Millie's diner in Silver Lake, taking a cautious approach.
“I don’t want to do something, and the second day they say something else,” he said.