• Jerry Thomas

California Announces its Restaurant Dine-in Reopening Plan

For the past few weeks, embattled California restaurants have been waiting with bated breath for word on when they can reopen dine-in operations. And during this trying time, restaurant operators have been left guessing as to how to best prepare for the new safety measures that will be part of any reopening plan.

The most recent briefing by California Gov. Gavin Newsom held on Tuesday, May 12, 2020, outlined “guidelines for reopening in-room dining” at restaurants statewide. Although eagerly anticipated by the entire foodservice industry across the golden state, the news shared by Gov. Newsom highlighted the fact that the return of employees to the workplace may come slower than most may desire. This blog will shed light on what to expect in the coming days.

The full details of the state’s plan for Dine-in Restaurants can be found in a .pdf document by clicking here and has also been published on California’s COVID-19 website (found by clicking here). It is important to note that the state’s guide “does not include county health orders, nor is it a substitute for any existing safety and health-related regulatory requirements such as those of Cal/OSHA” yet provides “reopening information for dine-in restaurants, brewpubs, craft distilleries, breweries, bars, pubs, and wineries to support a safe, sanitary environment for employees and customers.” Along with the full guidance materials, the state also provided a more user-friendly checklist (found by clicking here) as a supplement to help foodservice managers keep track of the new policies and procedures prescribed for the industry.

The guidance includes the mandated creation of a “workplace-specific plan” for how individual locations will address the required physical distancing, facemask utilization, enhanced sanitary procedures, and the many other requirements for re-opening. Restaurants are being told to “encourage takeout and delivery service whenever possible,” and brewpubs, bars, nightclubs, and distilleries - unless they are offering sit-down, dine-in meals - are being told to remain closed.

As a silver-lining, brewpubs, bars, nightclubs, and distilleries that do not normally provide dine-in service can partner with another vendor, allowing them to serve food and alcohol to dine-in customers provided both businesses follow the state’s COVID-19 dine-in guidance and alcohol is only sold together with food. And smaller pop-up-shops inside of breweries are once again allowed to operate, although large capacity venues must remain closed.

Automated food preparation solutions, such as Somabar's automated cocktail machine, are a good way to minimize contamination while limiting staff movement and density.

To best adhere to California’s Dine-in Reopening Guidance, the following are a few helpful tips:


  • Encourage and incentivize reservations, as such will allow your staff time to disinfect restaurant areas and best manage staffing density.

  • Online reservations also allow the restaurant to share guidance in advance to customers as to the COVID-19 policies and procedures that will be enforced while in your restaurant, such as physical distancing and the wearing of masks prior to being seated.

Food preparation:

  • Automate your entire food and beverage processes as much as possible, such as with a robotic bartender / automated mixed drink machine or table-top ordering tablets, as such will limit human interactions minimizing the potential for food and drink contamination from preparation to table service. Moreover, automation will assist with physical distancing as restaurants can better manage staffing density and movement around the restaurant.

  • Encourage food orders being placed in advance (online ordering or phone ordering) for your dine-in guests. This both helps limit your customers’ physical time in your restaurant as well as allows you to better manage your staff’s density and movement.

  • Consider having your customers wait in their vehicles or away from your establishments while waiting to be seated. Utilize technologies that alert guests through SMS (text message) as such helps eliminate guest/staff contact and is far more sanitary than sharing “buzzers”.

Countless businesses, Newsom said, “are open for takeout, but this would allow patrons to start coming back” for dine-in option, yet he cautioned that reopenings would be phased-in through a slow, methodological plan. Counties least affected by the coronavirus pandemic would be the first to reopen, for example.

“The statewide order affords the opportunity for local government to come into conformance with those guidelines,” Newsom also mentioned, “but counties can choose to be a little bit more prescriptive and restrictive. Not every county is compelled into this phase.” “It’s going to be a very trying time, even with these modifications,” Newsom said, which was directed at restaurants surviving. “I’m not naive about any of this, and I’m deeply concerned.”

While taking questions, Newsom also said that the guidelines today “are not static,” meaning specific details like percentages of reduced seating capacity, the increased use of patio dining, and other issues, could be updated as time passes and more information is obtained.

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