California Governor Gavin Newsom called for the closure of bars, wineries, breweries and pubs at a news conference today while also asking for restaurants to reduce their occupancy by half in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. With a two-week complete restaurant shut down across the country looming, local eateries are scrambling to survive.
As it stands according to Andrea Johnston, chief operating officer of OpenTable, across online reservations, phone reservations and walk-ins, there’s already been sharp declines over the last week. Their data show a 20 percent reduction in total seated diners compared to last year. In L.A., diners are down 25 percent, and in San Francisco and Seattle, 40 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
At a news conference in Los Angeles this week, Mayor Eric Garcetti urged Angelenos to order locally from food establishments instead of eating inside the restaurant in light of the social distancing, which set panic to institutions like Langer’s Deli, who tweeted:
“The @MayorOfLA call for people to avoid dining inside restaurants because of COVID-19 is irresponsible and is not what health experts are advising. The statement causes anxiety and leads to people panic buying. Restaurants are taking extra precautions to protect patrons.”
”I agree that is shocking news to hear, but I am certainly not an expert in public health and won’t advise otherwise,” chef Hunter Pritchett of a much more vacant Atrium in Los Feliz tells L.A. Weekly. “We absolutely need to trust our public health system in these times, but we owe it to each other to educate ourselves as much as possible to this massive issue to make rational, and informed decisions. That said, as an industry we need to unite and demand fiscal action be taken to support small businesses in these times, not through end-of-year tax credits or waiving payroll taxes.”
Produce shelves and meat and frozen food aisles across L.A. are empty, and open-air, low-risk farmers markets still doing business are running out of product soon after opening. At the same time, restaurants have no shortage of food and might be the only place to get a nourishing meal for the time being.
“It’s a black swan event,” Preux and Proper owner Josh Kopel tells L.A. Weekly. “It’s totally unexpected and totally unmanageable. There are two topics that come up. The first one is social responsibility. Are we obligated to stay open and serve our community or is our community better served by us closing? It remains to be seen. It’s a conversation we’ve been having for the last three days. The other conversation that everybody’s having is, you close temporarily, how do you guarantee that it’s just a temporary closing? What’s my landlord going to say? If I was to close to April 1, on April 1 the rent is due, and I haven’t made any money in two and a half weeks and I’ve been operating at a loss for the last week. What does that conversation look like? I feel terrible for myself and I feel terrible for my vendors. I feel terrible for my staff. But to be completely honest — as a parent, as a brother, as a husband, a son and a restaurateur, I’m not sure what the right answer is. As far as what the mayor said — I don’t know if he’s wrong. He’s skewing on the side of precaution and I’m not going to argue with that. At the end of the day it’s got to be about community and not about money.
“The best way to support local restaurants during a shutdown is to call them directly and pick it up yourself, ” Brad Metzger of Brad Metzger Restaurant Solutions tells L.A. Weekly. “It’s more profitable for them than eating in because it means less labor. Plus you avoid the costly apps that can charge them 30 percent. And buy gift cards, it helps with cash flow now and you can enjoy a nice meal when times get better. “
Many restaurants like Michael’s Santa Monica and Otium are already running special meal deals than can be picked up.
“Everything we do right now will determine the outcome of this crisis, and we can save lives if we stay calm, care for one another, and take forceful steps to protect our communities,” Mayor Garcetti said in an official statement today. “That’s why we must follow the guidelines laid out by Gov. Newsom, build on them for local needs, and put the health and safety of the most vulnerable above all else. Los Angeles has weathered enormous challenges before, and our strength and resilience are this city’s most powerful assets.”