Give restaurants the certainty with consistent regulations for outdoor dining

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In summary

Lawmakers should pass statewide outdoor dining regulations and ditch legislation that would harm the restaurant community.

By Jot Condie, Special at CalMatters

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

When first imagined, al fresco dining was a necessary response to help the California restaurant community survive the COVID-19 era. 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 alfresco dining. Once a reality, restaurants took advantage and customers loved the quirky and charming arrangements. Today, it’s hard to imagine going back to the old days.

But open-air restaurants, still a lifeline for thousands of restaurants, are in danger. In late 2021, reports chronicled the past promise and current peril of outdoor dining spaces in San Francisco.

No sooner did restaurants begin to realize the benefits of San Francisco’s “Shared Spaces” outdoor dining “parklet” structures, than the city began to impose restrictions and onerous fines for arbitrary infractions. Other cities, from San Diego to San Clemente, have also pledged a crackdown.

Innovative and thoughtful approaches to helping restaurants stay in business, such as alfresco dining, have been a vital lifeline over the past two years. State policymakers must remain focused on supportive policies that help sustain our community settlements and benefit Californians weary of COVID.

Over the past year, restaurateurs have shown enormous creativity to generate income, maintain stringent sanitary requirements, protect and train employees, instill trust in customers, adapt to challenges in the food chain. ‘supply, adapt to rising prices and integrate new business processes such as delivery and pick-up. options.

Restaurants did not do it all on their own. Last year, the California legislature passed and Governor Newsom enacted several bills to help, including Senate Bill 389, allowing take-out alcohol; House Bill 286, regulating the costs and transparency of food delivery platforms; Senate Bill 314, extending the deadline for the permanent conversion of al fresco dining with alcohol; and the accompanying Assembly Bill 61, which facilitates the process of pop-ups to obtain temporary liquor licenses.

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

The restaurant industry has gone too far to turn back the clock. Thousands of bars and restaurants have adapted to the new reality, especially by 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 committed to seeing restaurants succeed, they should pass state-level regulations, including alfresco dining, that set a consistent standard across the state. Likewise, 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 restaurant franchises in California. Legislation sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and expected to pass this year is hurting many restaurant owners, including minorities and female entrepreneurs looking to make a living in the restaurant community.

Based on last year’s experience, lawmakers should understand the unique role restaurants play in bringing communities together and keeping Californians employed. Actions taken by our lawmakers, including passing regulations and laws that protect neighborhood restaurants in this era and create certainty, will pay dividends for the state and Californians for many years to come.

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