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Some California Restaurants Are Re-Opening — But There Are A Lot Of New Rules

Tables have been rearranged at the Monk's Cellar in Roseville, CA to comply with requirements for preventing the spread of COVID-19 when the restaurant reopens.
Courtesy of Monk's Cellar
Tables have been rearranged at the Monk's Cellar in Roseville, CA to comply with requirements for preventing the spread of COVID-19 when the restaurant reopens.

California has approved more than a dozen counties to enter stage two of modifying the COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders. That means restaurant dining rooms can be re-open to the public — but the rules of eating out may be very different.

In Roseville, brewery and restaurant Monk’s Cellar is preparing to open its doors, with many changes to the operations in the dining area and the kitchen.

“There are a lot.” owner Andy Klein said of the state’s new guidelines to reopen, which is currently 11 pages. “This is the one time that I’m pretty excited that I have a really large restaurant, because we can get a decent number of people in here while maintaining six-to-eight feet between the tables and our guests.”

Klein says the trouble won’t be in the dining area, where he has removed 25 of the 40 tables. It will be in the kitchen, which he described as “rather small.”

To limit the spread of the virus, the state encourages a variety of new best practices: wearing gloves when bagging used napkins, face shields and impermeable aprons for dishwashers and disposable menus.

The guidelines also discourage things like “your table’s ready” buzzers, pre-rolled napkins and silverware and bottles of shared ketchup and mustard.

The new guidelines are not legal orders, except for a requirement that staff wear a mask if they come within six feet of a customer.

There is also no mandate as to how many people could be in a restaurant once it is allowed to reopen.

“Some have said, ‘Well, it should be opened in the first phase at just 25% capacity. Others said 30. Some said 50,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. “We decided not to be prescriptive in that perspective. We worked with our health officials to provide flexibility on spacing. What we want is physical distancing.”

That guideline was a win for the California Restaurant Association, which lobbied against placing a number on a restaurant’s capacity. Under the new rules, restaurants may literally be able to spill out into the streets.

“A lot of cities in California now are working with restaurants to allow them to expand their dining area. Some cities are saying, ‘We’re gonna shut down sidewalks, close down streets, allow parking lots to be used,’” said CEO Jot Condie.

He says letting restaurants serve food outside will “allow a restaurant to perhaps still offer the same number of tables for service, but allow for risk-based distancing six feet apart.”

The city of Sacramento and Visit Sacramento announced this afternoon a plan to do just that. The pilot program could take place at 125 restaurants in the central city.

Under the state’s new recommendations, restaurants are encouraged to use signs and marked walkways to create traffic patterns for employees and customers so that they don’t move too closely to each other. Restaurants should also remove tables, encourage curbside pickup or ask customers to wait in their cars until their tables are ready.

Klein at Monk’s Cellar said he was unsure what state guidelines are mandatory — or if customers are ready to return to dining out.

He’s hoping for the best.

“Are people going to be clamoring to get in? Are there gonna be lines? Or is it gonna be a slow trickle?” he said. “Hopefully, it’s busy and I’ll have to bring back 75-80% of my employees.”

Condie with the restaurant association says it’s impossible to tell.

“Compliance [from the owners] isn’t going to be a problem with these guidelines,” he said. “But it’s the customers. Are they going to feel safe enough to show up in a restaurant? I think that’s the top concern for most restaurateurs.”

Newsom says counties with larger populations should not feel rushed to reopen if they’re not ready.

“There should be no pressure on the local officials down in L.A. or elsewhere that they have to move into this space sooner, because their conditions are very, very different than the conditions of some of these rural counties,” he said.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio