Outdoor Dining is Officially Returning to LA This Friday
An unexpected change to state guidelines proves good news for restaurants.
Things are looking up for Angelenos who spent their entire holiday season indoors, adhering to a statewide safer-at-home order that included a 10 pm–5 am daily curfew; ban on outdoor dining; the closure of hair salons, barber shops, and other personal care businesses; and gatherings with people who do not belong to the same households, amongst other restrictions. 2021 arrived with local hospitals and their workers overwhelmed, and restaurants stretched to the limit as they approached what are traditionally the slowest months of the year. Local lawmakers warned that the early December order could be extended indefinitely, which made it all the more surprising when, on Monday, January 25, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California would be lifting stay-at-home orders for all regions in the state.
The state will return to a color-coded tier system that allows local health departments more control over their restrictions. Of California’s 54 counties, all but four remain in the most restrictive purple tier that indicates “widespread” transmission of the virus—Trinity, Alpine, and Mariposa counties are marked as red for “substantial” transition, and Sierra County, in the greater Sacramento area, has been marked as orange, indicating a “moderate” risk. While the move may represent a win for restaurant workers and their bored-at-home patrons, many are criticizing the decision, which comes while LA County’s ICU capacity remains at zero percent, as premature.
What’s the current status of outdoor dining in LA?
LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a press conference following Governor Newsom’s announcement that Los Angeles would align itself with state guidance by the end of the week. LA County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer confirmed in the same press conference that the new public health order would go into effect on Friday. The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own separate health departments, granted restaurants and hair and nail salons permission to reopen their businesses, effective immediately.
While bars and breweries must remain closed, wineries are now allowed to open for outdoor service with modifications and restaurants have also been given the clear to open their outdoor spaces with modifications for dine-in service.
What’s the cause of California’s unexpected change in policy?
Newsom credited a positive trend in California infection rates, hospitalizations, and ICU capacity, as well as vaccinations, for the decision to lift the statewide order.
In order for the regional safer-at-home order to be lifted, a region’s four-week projected ICU capacity had to meet or exceed 15%. Prior to Newsom’s press conference on Monday, state officials declined to share their projection data, saying that it was complicated and might mislead the public. But the previously unreleased figures were provided in Newsom’s video announcement and projected that Southern California ICU capacity would increase to 33.3% by February 21. Newsom also pointed out that California’s overall positivity rate has recently been compared favorably to those in Texas and Arizona.
The governor also provided additional details about the state’s vaccination plans. In addition to health care workers and residents 65 and older, California will prioritize emergency medical workers, food and agricultural workers, plus teachers and other school staff.
At the center of a recall campaign, Governor Newsom’s detractors claim that the decision to lift the safer-at-home order was politically motivated. Dubbed “Rescue California,” the recall campaign has gained traction in recent months and earned the endorsement from many of the state’s GOP lawmakers. According to the campaign website, only 500,000 more signatures are needed by March 17 to meet the 1.5 million valid signatures required to qualify for a ballot. When questioned during his press conference, Newsom was quick to dismiss the rumors, saying, “That’s just complete, utter nonsense, so let’s just dispense with that.”
Doctors, nurses, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are criticizing Newsom’s decision as premature, pointing out that cases have only begun to decline over the last 10 days or so. Many worry that the public will interpret the change as the all-clear to begin gathering outdoors again, when in reality, more caution is needed in order for COVID case numbers to continue trending downward. Hospitals are still overwhelmed and the new, more transmissible variant of the virus has recently been detected in more than half of LA’s test samples.
How is LA’s restaurant industry responding to the news?
Restaurant owners and their workers have been struggling to keep their heads above water, but most will need time to make sure that they can safely and reasonably meet the new guidelines without endangering staff or customers before relaunching outdoor spaces.
Several of the city’s favorite eateries have already responded to the news:
According to Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Jon & Vinny’s, Son of a Gun, Petit Trois, and animal, “The hope would be that we can get those restaurants (Son of a Gun and both Petit Trois locations) reopened as soon as possible. For restaurants like Jon and Vinny’s or animal, we have some bigger hurdles on reopening with only outdoor dining. We will assess the situation and go from there. We can all only cross our fingers and hope that we can reopen for inside dining by summertime.”
Union owner Maria Petulla was similarly reserved, saying that, "Union will continue to uphold all protocols set forth by the City of Pasadena and Los Angeles County. We are working on creating a more permanent outdoor setting that is in-line with Union's aesthetic. We are entering into this new phase cautiously. Our number one priority is the safety and well-being of our staff and our community. We are excited to welcome our guests back to Union—we have missed them!”
Alexander Wilmot of Gigi’s said that the Hollywood bistro is in no rush to reopen and that they will continue their takeout and weekend dinner series while they rehire and get everything ready for outdoor dining service. Wilmot pointed out that it’s hard to just snap your fingers and reopen, and with January and February being historically slow months for the industry, they are eyeing early March for the reopening of their outdoor patio, with a weekend brunch service expected to be introduced at the same time, though plans are obviously subject to change.
What does the future hold for dining (outdoor or otherwise) in LA?
The most recent change to California’s coronavirus restrictions seems to imply that outdoor dining would remain open in some capacity even in the most restrictive “widespread” tier of the current system (which LA County currently occupies), but as Angelenos learned in early December when regional safer-at-home orders unexpectedly halted outdoor dining, nothing is a sure bet these days.
However, with the Biden administration working to purchase 200 million more vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine expected to be released soon, and California streamlining their vaccine rollout, there’s a possibility that we could even be dining indoors by the year’s end.
As tempting as it may be to celebrate this news by dining outdoors, make sure that you continue to mask up when leaving your home, wash your hands frequently, limit indoor interactions with those outside your immediate households, and avoid crowded places. There’s a lot to look forward to in the distance, let’s try to keep ourselves healthy until we get there.
Sign up here for our daily LA email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Los Angeles has to offer.