Opinion: Support California restaurants with consistent outdoor dining rules

The restaurants at the Gaslamp on Fifth Avenue have set up restaurants across the street. Photo by Chris Stone

When first imagined, outdoor dining was a necessary response to help California’s restaurant community survive the age of COVID-19. California lawmakers knew they couldn’t just sit idly by as one of California’s biggest industries withered and died.

Lawmakers and the restaurant community have collaborated on new approaches to support operations, including outdoor dining. Once a reality, restaurants took advantage and customers loved the novel, charming arrangements. Today it is hard to imagine a return to the old way.

But outdoor dining, still a lifeline for thousands of eateries, is in jeopardy. In late 2021, news stories chronicled the past promise and current peril of outdoor dining spaces in San Francisco.

No sooner had restaurants begun to realize the benefits of San Francisco’s “Shared Spaces” outdoor dining “parklet” structures, than the city began imposing restrictions and costly fines for arbitrary violations. Other cities, from San Diego to San Clemente, have also sworn a crackdown.

Innovative and thoughtful approaches to help restaurants stay in business, such as outdoor dining, have been a critical lifeline over the past two years. State policymakers must stay focused on supportive policies that help maintain our community facilities and benefit COVID-weary Californians.

Over the past year, restaurateurs have shown enormous creativity in generating revenue, maintaining rigorous hygiene requirements, protecting and training employees, inspiring customer confidence, adapting to chain challenges supply chains, adapt to rising prices and integrate new business processes such as delivery and pick-up. the options.

Restaurants didn’t do it all alone. Last year, the California Legislature passed and Governor Newsom signed into law several bills to help, including Senate Bill 389, allowing carryout alcohol; Assembly Bill 286, regulating the costs and transparency of food delivery platforms; Senate Bill 314, extending the deadline for permanently converting alcoholic outdoor dining; and the related Assembly Bill 61, which facilitates the pop-up process for obtaining temporary liquor licenses.

These critically important actions will help the industry endure this difficult pandemic era and enable Californians to gather socially in safe public places.

The restaurant industry has come too far to go back. Thousands of bars and restaurants have adapted to the new reality, including creating outdoor spaces that generate regular business. Keeping our doors open helps us maintain employment for service workers, many of whom are middle- and low-income people of color, enabling them to care for their families during this time of great economic vulnerability.

If lawmakers are truly invested in the success of restaurants, they should enact state-level regulations, including outdoor dining, that set a consistent standard across the state. In the same way, they must also abandon laws and regulations that would harm the restaurant community.

At the top of the list of harmful legislation is the so-called FAST Recovery Act, or Assembly Bill 257, which would create another state and local bureaucracy to oversee California restaurant franchises. Legislation sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and expected to pass this year hurts a large segment of restaurant owners, including minorities and women entrepreneurs looking to make a living in the restaurant community.

Given the experience of the past year, lawmakers should understand the unique role of restaurants in bringing communities together and keeping Californians employed. Actions taken by our legislators, including the enactment of regulations and laws that protect neighborhood restaurants in the current era and create certainty, will pay dividends to the state and to Californians for many years to come.

Jot Condie is president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California Capitol works and why it matters.

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