LOS ANGELES — With the clock ticking toward Wednesday’s 10 p.m. shutdown of outdoor restaurant dining in L.A. County, the eateries offering Thanksgiving dinners are thankful to have the business as they head into the latest round of COVID-induced restrictions. Indoor dining has been shut down since the spring.

“We were waiting for the shoe to drop. We knew we were heading for a shutdown, but we were just praying it would be after Thanksgiving,” said Dana Slatkin, owner of the Violet Bistro in L.A., where 50 Thanksgiving feasts had already been preordered before the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced outdoor dining would be restricted until at least December 16. 

What You Need To Know

  • L.A. County restaurants are restricted to takeout and delivery only starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday

  • The dine-in restriction will last through at least December 16

  • Many L.A. restaurants that had already planned on offering Thanksgiving meals have switched them to pickup

  • The holidays are the most lucrative time of year for many restaurants

Slatkin said the ready-to-heat Thanksgiving feasts of turkey roulade, cornbread stuffing, and sticky toffee pudding will help her make payroll and “get through what looks to be like yet another very dry spell, but it’s not going to solve all the problems of the restaurant business. Certainly not ours. It’s not a windfall.”

Restaurants have been some of the hardest-hit businesses during the pandemic. Saddled with fluctuating restrictions and a recession that has kept many consumers from spending, one in six have closed either permanently or long term, according to the National Restaurant Assn.

Yet Thanksgiving continues, helping to keep some restaurants afloat, if only for another day.

“We’re pretty busy,” said Susan Feniger, co-owner of the Border Grill downtown and Socalo in Santa Monica, the latter of which is doing meal kits for groups of two or four that include roasted turkey roulade with herbed gravy, sautéed kale, Swiss chard, dandelion greens, honey lime yams, cranberry relish, and smashed fingerling potatoes with chimichurri. “I think we’re doing 45 or 50 of those meals to go. Is it a lifesaver? No. Definitely not. But we feel good about it, and we feel good that people are going to be getting it.”

Border Grill is like a lot of L.A. restaurants right now, trying to manage the imminent, if temporary, closure of outdoor dining and the possibility of a full shutdown. If COVID conditions worsen, the L.A. County Department of Public Health could issue a stay-at-home order that would allow only essential workers and people seeking essential services to leave their homes, and it could also impose a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., except for essential workers.

“We are scrambling right now to figure out what does that mean exactly for us,” Feniger said. “None of us believe it will be three weeks. We all believe it will be through the first of the year, so we’re all trying to project how much of our sales are to-go right now, and will that increase when restaurants are closed completely.”

Feniger said she’s in touch with a lot of L.A. restaurateurs who are questioning whether it’s worth it to even stay open.

“Part of the struggle for restaurant owners is you don’t want to let people go, but on the other hand, if you don’t let people go and you start losing money, you’ll never be able to get back open,” she said. “Our plan right now is we will stay open to do to-go business, and we’re running numbers based on best projections to see how many people will it take to do that level of to-go. All we’ve been doing is trying to figure out how we don’t have to cut people.”

Thanksgiving business is nice, she said, but it doesn’t add to a restaurant’s bottom line in the same way as Christmastime when her restaurants and food trucks are catering and hosting office parties, as well as gatherings at people’s homes. “December is often the strongest month ever, so not having that, along with everything else, is a huge hit.”