Local Leaders and Restaurateurs React to Lift on Outdoor Dining Ban

Patrons dining outdoors before it was banned in November. | Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

A roller coaster of coronavirus regulations has crippled the industry

By Terry Miller

Governor Gavin Newsom lifted the regional stay-at-home order Monday morning and subsequently Los Angeles County officials said the county will follow the state’s COVID-19 restrictions by the end of the week. Outdoor dining can resume with occupancy limits starting Friday, when the county issues a new health officer order that will also rescind hours of operation restrictions for non-essential businesses that was in place between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., L.A. County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said at a Monday press conference following Newsom’s announcement.

Exactly what the new restaurant guidelines are remains to be seen, but restaurants are generally optimistic. L.A. County health officials suspended outdoor dining just before Thanksgiving, “prompting immediate outcry from pandemic-battered restaurateurs and pushback from residents and some politicians. Legal action since then has aimed to overturn the order,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Some restaurants across the state defied the order, harking back to prohibition era speakeasies. The anger and frustration on behalf of the restaurant owners and managers from some residents is palatable.

As this newspaper pointed out in early December, “It is the worst of times, it was the epoch of incredulity, to paraphrase the Charles Dickens classic novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’” With the restaurant industry already hurting— plus a ban on outdoor dining —it would not be an understatement to say this, in fact, was the winter of despair.

Monrovia City Manager Dylan Feik pointed out in early December that according to public health data, “between 10–15 percent of positive cases were reported from dining out with someone who tested positive, while more than 50 percent were reported from being at a private social gathering with someone who tested positive.” According to Feik, city officials at the time were concerned that closing restaurants would “adversely incentivize residents to dine together, indoors, and without any safety precautions in place,” a sentiment that has been echoed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger.  

“I support following the governor’s recommended guidelines for Southern California, and reopening outdoor dining, personal care services and other industries that were previously closed by these orders,” Barger said Monday. “A data-driven and pragmatic policy approach is essential to protecting public health, while balancing the devastating social, emotional and economic impacts of this virus.”

Feik said he was surprised by the governor’s announcement Monday but that it was “a welcome surprise.” He added that the city is “hopeful struggling businesses can resume operations in a safe and responsible manner.”

He commended Monrovians and the many businesses who created the ‘Operation Save Our Restaurants’ program. “It’s true ‘neighbor helping neighbor’ stuff and part of what makes Monrovia so special,” he said. “At the city, we are working to allow the Street Fair and expanded outdoor dining (so Friday and Saturday) to resume so long as they are allowed under the County Health Order. We suspect they will be.”

Hopefully, now some of our favorite eateries and watering holes can recover a little of what they have lost. The L.A. County guidelines for reopening will be released Friday, according to Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis.

With the roller coaster of rules and regulations Beacon Media has reached out to several restaurants and local leaders for their thoughts.

Paul Little, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO, shared his thoughts on the latest news:

“I hope this means that hair salons, fitness and yoga studios, retailers and restaurants can return to the opening protocols we had prior to Thanksgiving.

“It is frustrating that the governor seems to be making these decisions on a whim, or after reading political tea leaves, as the most recent closure orders were not based on any scientific data or experience that showed higher infection rates among customers of any of the closed industry types. I expect more blame for the recent infection spikes can be laid at the feet of the governor himself who essentially told Californians to ignore his own rules and regulations, and the expert advice of health experts, when he went to dinner with donors at the French Laundry.”

According to a survey released this month by the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry ended 2020 with total sales that were $240 billion below the Association’s pre-pandemic forecast for the year and nearly 2.5 million jobs below its pre-coronavirus level. As of Dec. 1, 2020, more than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily, or for good.

“Our research shows a clear desire among consumers to enjoy more on-premises dining at restaurants than they have been able to get during the pandemic,” says Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president of Research. “We’ve also found that even as the vaccine becomes more available and more customers can return to restaurants, they’ll continue to want the expanded off-premises options going forward. Both will continue to be key for industry growth.”

David Robkin who owns the popular Wingwalker Brewery in Monrovia is playing it safe. “I can be ready for reopening but I am not going to unless I feel it is safe and that safety is corroborated by independent medical or scientific opinion. I know the Board of Supervisors wishes they could command infection safety, but they can’t,” Robkin told Beacon Media News. “Until infection rates drop and hospital beds are available, I will remain take-out only. I also do not have enough patio heaters for more than six people at a time.”

“Regarding the stay-at-home order being lifted, this news is a huge relief as this has not only negatively affected our loyal patrons, but also our employees, vendors and all those who depend on us for a living,” says the co-owner of Twoheys Restaurant in South Pasadena. “We now can provide more options for our patrons, including the present curbside carhop, takeout and patio dining.”

Newsom Monday was quick to point out that California is not “out of the woods yet, but there is that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.”

This is a developing story; we will publish more details as they become available.


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