La Strada

A sign in front of La Strada asks people to wear a mask when entering the restaurant.

Paper menus or online menus only.

Shower curtains separating tables.

Eliminating lemons and unwrapped straws from self-serve drink stations.

While Long Beach restaurants await approval to begin welcoming people to dining in, the National Restaurant Association has released its “Covid-19 Reopening Guidance” report. It includes recommendations such as tables at least six feet apart, hand sanitizer for customers and avoiding crowds that can occur while waiting for tables or clustered around a bar.

The association asked Congress for a $240 billion recovery fund for an industry that has suffered more than 8 million jobs lost since mid-March. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, about $80 billion in revenue was lost by the end of April, with industry-wide losses estimated at $240 billion by next month.

For two Belmont Shore restaurants — La Strada and George’s Greek Café — their owners, as well as others, face the challenges of convincing the public to return to sit-down dining and the economics of the new normal.

Lisa Ramelow has owned La Strada at 4716 E. Second St. for almost 27 years. She has been mindful of teaching her wait staff to be safe.

“I am the best trainer, but people still make mistakes,” she said. “They wear masks and gloves, but I think the problem is bigger than re-training.”

Ramelow said that with the NRA’s social distancing recommendation, she could only have three tables — all on the left-hand side of her restaurant. The right side of the restaurant would be dedicated to people picking up take-out orders.

“If I had two ’seatings' of those three tables, I would guess that would net me about $400 in sales,” she said. “This would not even cover the cost of the employees.”

Ramelow added that her ADA-accessible table on the patio would have to be utilized for to-go orders. And customers sitting at the smaller, outdoor table would have to deal with the people waiting outside for their food.

“I would have to keep moving the to-go people and apologizing to the diner at the little table,” she said. “This would not be fun for me.”

Nicky Clair has been losing sleep at night trying to figure out what the future holds for the three George’s Greek Cafés — one in Lakewood, one in downtown Long Beach at 135 Pine Ave., and one at 5316 E. Second St. in Belmont Shore.

“We are very social people and one of the biggest things we can’t do anymore is touch a shoulder or hug or shake hands,” Clair said. “This is uncharted territory for us.”

Clair said her staff will continue to wear masks but isn’t sure that wearing gloves is the answer. Her staff hands a wipe to people who use a card to pay for their purchases. She wants to keep the restaurant sanitized and talks about putting up plexiglass.

“I want this to be healthy and safe for everybody,” she said. “I’m not sure we will get anything done if we are always stopping to wash hands. My hands are so dry right now, they hurt.”

Alan Michaelson shares the owners’ concerns. He is the owner and instructor of Food Safety Service 1st. For more than 20 years, Michaelson, who lives in Belmont Heights, has been a certified food safety and responsible alcohol instructor with the National Restaurant Association and the California Restaurant Association.

“People are looking for more transparency, more hygiene,” he said. “I think restaurants have to be more aware. And the managers will have to make sure employees are following basic food safety.”

Michaelson, who trains the food handlers at Dodger Stadium and Chase Field, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play, said people want to go out and dine and have a good time; what they don’t want is to come down with a food-borne illness 24 hours or two days later.

“The ServSafe program provides a certification which is required by law that all people involved in food service have to be certified in food safety,” he said. “I think it is going to be up to each restaurateur on how they are going to handle the servers. Food safety is going to be the main focus of their survival. Consumers will be the determinant.”

For her part, Ramelow said she is no rush for people to come into her restaurant to eat. She understands the precautions health officials are taking.

“I’ve always been super cautious,” she said. “I honestly don’t think that any of those (people) dining in would really enjoy the experience. They would be waited on by people who look more like nurses and doctors than actual friendly wait staff.

“And as an owner, I would be a nervous wreck. I would be stopping anybody from trying to head to the restroom. I would have to keep explaining why no one could sit at the outside table. I would be running around like a maniac with hand sanitizer.”

Michelson says there is an expense to everything in a restaurant. People want to go to a place where the workers are practicing good, personal hygiene and good food safety.

“The most expensive thing in a restaurant is empty seats,” he said.

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