LA will soon enter the red tier and restart indoor dining. How do restaurant staff feel?

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Indoor dining stools remain closed at Grand Central Market during the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 3, 2021. LA County is poised to restart indoor dining the week of March 15, 2021. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters.

As more Californians get vaccinated against COVID and infections drop, Los Angeles County is poised to move into the red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan. This could happen as soon as Monday, March 15.

That means restaurants can allow indoor dining at 25% capacity next week. The county’s new rules include eight feet of distance between tables, one household per table, and maximum possible ventilation. The county also recommends that restaurant staff wear an N95 mask, or double masks  with a face shield. 

Angelenos haven’t been able to eat inside establishments since last summer.

“I think that it's going to be a nightmare when the indoor dining reopens,” says a woman who’s employed at two popular LA eateries. She wants to go by her first initial only, A., because she’s afraid of workplace retaliation.

“I think it's way too soon. If outdoor dining is any indication of how people are behaving, then I'm just absolutely horrified to think about what's going to happen when we add more on top of that and open up indoors,” she says.

A. has been working at outdoor dining spaces since they reopened in January. She says customers have been blaming servers and restaurants for conditions outside of their control. 

“The heat lamp isn't hot enough? Well, we can't control the weather, you see how freezing it is. You're choosing to dine out on a night that's 55 degrees and now you're upset with us because it's cold,” she says.

A. anticipates everyone requesting indoor tables, and they’ll be upset when they can’t get it.  

Kevin Norton, the owner of Supply and Demand, a bar/restaurant/music venue in Long Beach, is more optimistic about a red-tier move, though his optimism is measured.

“The analogy I use is when Lucy is holding the football and Charlie Brown goes to kick it and she pulls it out of the way and he falls … that's been this last year,” Norton says. 

Like other businesses in LA, Supply and Demand has closed, reopened, reclosed, and reopened for outdoor dining. Norton even added live-streamed music performances for extra income.

Norton says during his last reopening in June, he ordered thousands of dollars worth of alcohol and food items. He was forced to close a week later due to the state’s order, so he’s apprehensive about moving to the red tier and resuming indoor dining.

Norton says the process cost him an enormous amount of money. “Just dig a hole in your backyard, fill it with money, and throw some fire on it,” he describes.

Despite losing money and being frustrated by a lack of communication from state and county officials, he remains hopeful about the future. 

“We're happy that it seems like Biden's really doing his job, getting the vaccines out there. … The mayor's trying to get it going in Long Beach with the vaccines too. So we think it's going to turn around. … We got to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”