By Matthew Rodriguez

After the recent COVID-19 surge plateaued, restaurants and patrons greeted the return of outdoor dining. 

“We were all very happy for us because it gave us the opportunity to have a few more employees who have been laid off,” said Abel Ramirez, owner of El Portal. “We were extremely happy to hear that we will be opening outdoor [dining].”

Outdoor dining returned to Pasadena on Jan. 25 after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the statewide stay-at-home order following a deadly coronavirus surge. The city and Los Angeles County followed suit, as they immediately reopened outdoor dining.

“I got to thank the city for putting the infrastructure in place,” said Paul Little, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce president. “And making it easy for restaurants to open outside when that wasn’t their program previously. The city is doing what they can in that arena and I certainly appreciate that.”

Restaurants have struggled during the pandemic. Many have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. However, the city has tried to ease the burden on restaurants throughout the entire pandemic.

“I think the city and the city staff have done an extraordinary [job], given the circumstances, trying to help businesses open safely, and making it easy for them to do so,” said Little.

“As a businessperson I always like to say that they do more but… they’re doing a very good job,” Ramirez added.

In addition to the eviction moratoriums and prior programs like the Great Plates Delivered, the city has instituted temporary no-fee permits for outdoor dining.

“We’re trying to work with [restaurants] to help with costs and to expedite the permit process,” city spokesperson Lisa Derderian wrote in an email.

According to the city’s website, there are nine temporary no-fee permits, eight of which relate to outdoor dining. The permits allow expanded outdoor dining in streets, alleys or sidewalks.

“They’ve allowed the restaurants to expand outside without adding any city cost to that,” said Little. “They’re doing a really good job within the constraints of what they’re allowed to do.”

According to Little, the infrastructure has allowed the city and restaurants to reopen safely.

“I think the safely part is really key to all of this,” he said. “The fact that the health departments can ensure that people are operating within the safety guidelines established is important as a customer.”

From a consumer’s point of view, Little wants to feel confident that the restaurant that he goes to for dinner is going to be safe. The same goes from the businessperson’s point of view. Just like a simple case of food poisoning, a restauranter never wants to hear that one of their customers got sick, let alone their employees.

“We are compliant with all the regulations, we’re happy to do that,” said Ramirez. “We do not want any person to get sick when they come to see us. Neither do we want to be sick when they come to see us.”

According to the city’s protocol for reopening, the new rules are:

• Televisions and other screens that broadcast programming must be turned off. 

• To achieve 6 feet of distance between customers from different parties, tables must be spaced 8 feet apart when measured from table edge to table edge. 

• Restaurants must post signage informing guests that parties are limited to only individuals from the same household. 

• Restaurants must post new signage regarding customer mask wearing and hand hygiene.

• Quarantine period reduced from 14 days to 10 days in accordance with the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. 

• Clarification added that employee assessments should also include whether they are currently required to be under isolation or quarantine. 

• Temporary outdoor dining structures must adhere to state guidance and be 50% open with no more than two nonadjacent, impermeable walls closed.

Derderian said reopening outdoor dining was of utmost importance for the city, however, they wanted to do so safely.

“Our health department conducted a great deal of outreach by e-phone, personal phone calls and in-person visits to highlight the updated COVID protocols,” wrote Derderian. She also wrote that the city will continue investigating complaints and conduct routine inspections if warranted.

At the end of the day, even with the restrictions and COVID-19 still looming over his head Ramirez is simply glad to see his customers back in his restaurant.

“Just to see them again is a joy for me,” said Ramirez. “I never call them customers. I normally call them our guests. They should feel that way when they come in and we treat them that way.”