The Return of Dine-In Restaurants: What Restaurateurs Must Know Before Reopening in California amid COVID-19

Employers in California are eager to reopen as the state’s stay-at-home orders are lifted. As part of the reopening process, California agencies have been issuing industry-specific guidance documents, which continue to evolve. For example, on June 5, 2020, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued updated COVID-19 guidance for restaurants, bars, and wineries in the Golden State, with a recommended effective date of June 12, 2020. The new guidance comes less than a month after the CDPH first issued recommendations for dine-in restaurants. This ASAP compares the earlier COVID-19 Industry Guidance:  Dine-In Restaurants (“Old Restaurant Guidance”) issued on May 12, 2020, to California’s new COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Restaurants, Bars, and Wineries (“New Restaurant Guidance”). 

The following list includes all measures that are in the New Restaurant Guidance that were not included in the Old Restaurant Guidance (i.e., all new measures):

Individual Control Measures and Screening (pp 6-7)

  • The New Restaurant Guidance adds the requirement that “Employers are generally encouraged to provide face coverings but must provide them when required by employer rules or these guidelines.” 
  • [Underlined language new]  Establishments must take reasonable measures, including posting signage at all entrances and in strategic and highly-visible locations and in reservation confirmations, to remind the public that they should use face coverings while not eating and drinking, practice physical distancing, to not touch their face, to frequently wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, and to use hand sanitizer.
  • [Underlined language new] Guests and visitors should be screened for symptoms upon arrival, asked to use hand sanitizer, and to wear a face covering when not eating or drinking. Employers have the right to cancel reservations for individuals/parties with symptomatic guests. Face coverings should be made available for customers who arrive without them. Babies and children under age two should not wear face coverings, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols (pp. 7-10)

  • Workers using cleaners or disinfectants should wear gloves and other protective equipment as required by the product instructions. Follow the asthma-safer cleaning methods recommended by the California Department of Public Health.
  • To minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water, take steps to ensure that all water systems and features are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown.
  • Restaurants, bars, and wineries should increase fresh air circulation by opening windows or doors, if possible and in accordance with security and safety protocols.
  • Provide menus via alternative, low-touch methods, if possible, such as disposable paper menus, non-touch chalk or white boards, and digital menus that customers can view on a personal electronic device. Provide disposable order numbers/table trackers if possible. If alternatives cannot be provided, properly disinfect menus, order numbers, etc. before and after customer use. Consider options that allow customers to order ahead of time.
  • Consider using disposable seat covers, particularly on porous surfaces. Discard and replace seat covers between each use. Provide disposable or washable covers on pillows used in seating areas and change/wash them after each use.
  • [Underlined language is new] Close areas where customers may congregate or touch food or food ware items that other guests may use. Modify delivery of these items by providing items to guests individually, converting to cafeteria-style service, etc. Discard or clean, disinfect, or sanitize shared items after each use, as appropriate. The areas that should be closed include but are not limited to:
    • Self-service areas with condiment caddies, utensil caddies, napkins, lids, straws, water pitchers, to-go containers, etc.
    • Self-service machines including ice, soda, frozen yogurt dispensers, etc.
    • Self-service food areas such as buffets, salsa bars, salad bars, snack areas, etc.

Physical Distancing Guidelines (pp. 10-13)

  • Discontinue seating customers and/or groups at bar counters, sushi preparation bars, etc., where they cannot maintain at least six feet of distance from employee work areas/stations.
  • Discontinue open seating. All members of a customer group must be present before seating and hosts must bring the entire group to the table at one time. Whenever possible, ask guests to be seated rather than standing to discourage unnecessary movement.
  • Discourage customers from ordering at the bar and instead usher guests directly to their tables. Staff should take and deliver orders to customers to limit the number of people moving around shared spaces. If customers must order from the bar, reconfigure space so that bartenders, other workers, and customers can maintain at least six feet of distance from one another.
  • Adjust music volume so that employees can maintain distance from customers to hear orders.
  • Encourage the use of credit cards and contactless payment systems.
  • Employee pre-shift meetings and trainings should be conducted virtually or in areas that allow for appropriate physical distancing between employees. Food, beverages, food ware, etc., should not be shared.
  • Discontinue activities that encourage movement and shared items between guests including karaoke singing, open mic performances, trivia activities, mixers, pub crawls, etc.
  • Discontinue services and activities that carry an increased risk of contamination from sharing and splashing and such as drinking games and/or contests, drop shots, etc.
  • Consider limiting excessive consumption of alcohol that could deter guests’ compliance with these guidelines.
  • Close dance floors and discontinue performances such as musical or dance acts that encourage large gatherings.

Additional Considerations for Tasting Rooms (pp. 13-14)

  • To the extent your business operates a tasting room, be sure to follow the specific guidance addressing for this activity.

Restaurant industry employers in California should continue to monitor state and local guidance as the reopening process remains fluid.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.