Keep restaurants safe with uniform rules for al fresco dining

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Legislators should enact national regulations for al fresco dining and enact laws that would harm the restaurant community.

By Jot Condie, especially for CalMatters

Jot Condie is President and CEO of the California Restaurant Association.

When first thought of, alfresco dining was a necessary response to help the California restaurant community survive the COVID-19 era. California lawmakers knew they couldn’t just watch one of California’s largest industries wither and die.

Lawmakers and the restaurant community worked on new approaches to keeping things running, including outdoor dining. Once a reality, restaurants benefited and guests loved the novel, charming arrangements. A return to the old way is hardly imaginable today.

But alfresco dining, which is still a lifeline for thousands of restaurants, is at risk. In late 2021, news reports covered the promises of the past and present dangers of outdoor dining in San Francisco.

No sooner had restaurants recognized the benefits of San Francisco’s “shared spaces” outdoor “parklet” structures than the city began to impose restrictions and costly fines for arbitrary violations. Other cities, from San Diego to San Clemente, have also vowed to crack down on cracks.

Innovative, thoughtful approaches to helping restaurants stay in business, such as alfresco dining, have been a vital lifeline for the past two years. State policymakers must continue to focus on supportive efforts that help maintain our community facilities and benefit the COVID-tired Californians.

Over the past year, restaurant owners have shown tremendous creativity in generating revenue, adhering to strict hygiene regulations, protecting and training employees, building trust with customers, adapting to supply chain challenges, adapting to rising prices, and new business processes like delivery and pick-up. Options on.

Restaurants didn’t do everything on their own. Last year the California legislature passed and Governor Newsom signed several bills to help, including Senate Bill 389, which allows take-away alcohol; Congregation Bill 286 regulating the cost and transparency of food delivery platforms; Senate Act 314, which extends the deadline for permanently converting outdoor meals to alcohol; and Companion Bill Assembly Bill 61, which eases the process for pop-ups to secure temporary liquor licenses.

These extremely important measures will help the industry survive this challenging era of pandemic and allow Californians to gather socially in safe public places.

Gastronomy has gone too far to go back. Thousands of bars and restaurants have adapted to the new reality, including the creation of outdoor spaces that generate regular business. If we keep our doors open, we can keep service workers, many of whom are black, middle- and low-income people, so they can care for their families during this time of great economic vulnerability.

If lawmakers really care about restaurants to succeed, they should enact state-level regulations, including al fresco dining, that will set a uniform standard across the state. They must also abandon laws and regulations that would harm the restaurant community.

At the top of the list of harmful laws is the FAST Recovery Act, or Assembly Bill 257, which would create yet another state and local bureaucracy to oversee California’s restaurant franchises. The legislation, sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and expected to come into effect later this year, is harming a large proportion of restaurant owners, including minority and business women, who want to make a living in the restaurant community.

Given last year’s experience, lawmakers should understand the unique role restaurants play in bringing communities together and employment for Californians. The actions our lawmakers are taking, including passing regulations and laws to protect and keep neighborhood restaurants safe and secure in the current era, will pay off for the state and Californians for years to come.

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