As the COVID-19 pandemic presses on, the county’s surge of recent cases landed it in California’s most restrictive, purple, tier on Nov. 16. There were 628 new cases of the virus Nov. 18; two deaths were reported.
Under the direction of Gov. Gavin Newsom, restaurants can remain open only to serve outdoor patrons or facilitate takeout meals. Cinemas and indoor gyms were forced to shut down entirely.
The restrictions have prompted some permanent closures, said Orange County Restaurant Association Inc. President Pamela Waitt.
“It’s a pretty devastating thing to happen,” Waitt told The Epoch Times. “Restaurants have been hit harder than almost any other industry. I know everybody’s been hit hard, but restaurants just keep on taking such a beating.”
Out in the Cold
The holidays would typically be the busiest time of year for the region’s thousands of eateries, but of course, there’s nothing typical about 2020.
Restaurants that wish to remain open are struggling to find ways to make patios comfortable for customers as cold weather approaches. Industrial patio heaters have become notoriously hard to find, with many back-ordered for a month or more.
“When people are dining outside, you’ve got to put a lot into making that space warm and cozy for people to come,” Waitt said. “A lot of restaurants don’t have the extra resources to buy [extra supplies].”
Local government has offered some aid. During a Nov. 17 meeting, The Orange County Board of Supervisors announced an OC Restaurant Outdoor Dining Grant which will allow restaurants to apply for $1,000 grants which can be used to buy outdoor patio equipment, such as space heaters and canopies.
More help is needed on a federal level to support the struggling restaurant industry, said Waitt. She pointed to the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Restaurant Assistance Needed To Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act, which is stalled in Congress. The $120 billion restaurant relief bill would provide restaurant grants to cover expenses such as rent, protective equipment, payroll, and more.
The industry can’t wait much longer for the bill to pass, Waitt said.
“If they’re going to be shut down like that, the government needs to be prepared to help them out,” she said. “We can’t wait until January 2021 [for this to pass]. We need this to happen now, because we will have a lot more shutdowns.”
She said the public can support restaurants by ordering takeout or buying gift cards. She suggested gifting friends and loved ones with restaurant certificates during the holidays.
There’s one other thing they can do to help, she added: wear a mask.
“We wouldn’t have to be this way if we could we could just follow the guidelines,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t follow the rules and it spreads faster now, so many people have to suffer. I find that incredibly frustrating.”
Making up for Lost Space
Misty Thorne, who owns Sol Grill in Newport Beach, said she planned to offset indoor restrictions by extending the restaurant’s back patio.
“I’m actually feeling pretty optimistic,” Thorne told The Epoch Times. “[The outdoor extension] is going to basically be another room added on behind our restaurant, but it’s outdoors. I’m pretty excited. We had a really busy summer. I mean, people were super supportive. They loved all the outdoor dining.”
She said she hopes to have the extension completed by Nov. 25, just in time for the Thanksgiving rush. She added extra power to the restaurant’s electrical grid to accommodate new heaters. The space will also include shades to protect against the win, and will allow the restaurant to seat about 30 patrons outside.
Constructing the additional space was a necessary investment, she said.
“I know a lot of people don’t have a lot of money right now,” she said. “But in order to make money in terms of the restaurants, you have to invest a little bit of money, blood, sweat, and tears.”