By Crystal Harrell

The stay-at-home order placed by Governor Gavin Newsom on December 5 was lifted in Riverside County on Monday, allowing for some businesses to resume operations. The county now returns to the color-coded tier system, under the Widespread Purple Tier of California’s economic reopening guidelines. This tier is the most restrictive, but it enables outdoor dining to resume at restaurants, as well as some gym services, barber shops, and nail salons.

This announcement comes just as a winter storm brings rain and even snow to the Coachella Valley, making this announcement both exciting and perhaps problematic for local businesses not equipped to handle these weather conditions.

“We are very pleased about going partially back in business with our safely expanded outdoor dining in a safe, sanitary way. All protocols are necessary and we are committed to serving our customers safely,” said Jerry Keller, owner of Lulu California Bistro in Palm Springs.

Lulu California Bistro has implemented several accommodations for outdoor dining, including an expanded patio along Palm Canyon Drive at socially-distanced tables, the installation of a commercial air filtration system from ActivePure, the use of paperless menus easily accessed by a QR code, printed disposable menus and condiments on request, and socially-distanced seating.

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Some restaurant owners feel that it is a unique challenge of being advised to open for outdoor dining on an immediate basis. Owner of The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, Brad Guth, considers the biggest obstacle to overcome is replenishing inventory levels without delay in order to provide customers with what they expect to be available.

“Hopefully this will provide some certainty and stability for the owners, staff, and guests alike at all restaurants who have faced such uncertainty. This will all have to be addressed on a day-to-day basis. The first order of business is to assure there are tables and chairs adequately spaced to accommodate the guests while adhering to county health department guidelines. This segment of business has been so unfairly targeted in my opinion that I just want to wish everyone who has been able to hang in there much success!” stated Guth.

Outdoor dining options also allow for full-time staff to earn a paycheck and resume full service, in-person dining. When JC’s Cafe in Palm Desert lost the ability to serve guests indoors, the landlord of El Paseo Park Plaza allowed the restaurant to spread out into the common area so tables could be properly spaced at least six feet apart and to be able to fully staff the business and not lose any outdoor seating it had before the COVID protocols were ordered and implemented back in March of 2020.

“Throughout the past seven weeks of take-out only, we and our guests struggled with the double standards of the stay-at-home order. People could walk around indoors at the Westfield Mall and shop at non-essential businesses, but they couldn’t sit outdoors and eat a meal,” shared JC’s Cafe owner Casey Hutchinson.

Although the winter weather is in full force this late January, with rain showers and a surprising amount of snow in the High Desert and surrounding mountains, most Coachella Valley restaurants are equipped to handle the chilly temperatures.

“Luckily, the desert ‘winters’ are pretty mild. We have great heaters on the patio and deck. If it rains, well, only the brave will hang out. Next week we’ll extend our hours, and are introducing our new outdoor projector screen & weekend brunch menu just in time for the Super Bowl,” said Skip Paige, owner of Skip’s Little Bar in Palm Desert.

Now more than ever, local restaurants are looking for support from the community as they begin welcoming guests for outdoor dining. A new program will offer $10 coupons for use at more than a dozen restaurants in Palm Springs. This is the result of a collaborative effort involving the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, the city of Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism and several local businesses. The coupons can be used repeatedly at restaurants like Lulu California Bistro, Las Casuelas Terraza, and many others.

“These shutdowns have been hard on restaurants, particularly this last one as assistance was provided too little, too late. We’re happy to connect with our guests again and feel like we’re contributing to our community. We appreciate the support from everyone in this Valley. We couldn’t survive without our neighbors!” stated Stephanie McCormack, manager of Big Rock Pub in Indio.

Coupons can be printed and downloaded at https://pschamber.org/. Restaurants will then log the coupon number and be reimbursed. The same coupons can be used multiple times. Restaurants in Palm Springs that want to participate can call 760-325-1577.