Milo SRO is Milo & Olive's delivery and takeout-focused offshoot. (Rustic Canyon Family)

As Los Angeles County public health officials ask people to avoid public spaces to fight coronavirus, Santa Monica restaurants are taking cleaning to the next level and doubling down on delivery to maintain financial stability.

Local restaurateurs hope that by sanitizing surfaces frequently, spacing tables farther apart and removing self-service food and utensils, they will both prevent the virus from spreading and preserve a customer base so they can continue to pay their staff. But with many people choosing to bunk down at home, restaurant owners are also shifting to delivery in the hopes that they can bolster flagging business by offering those in self-isolation an alternative to canned beans and frozen veggies.

Mark Peters, general manager of Mid-City pizzeria Dagwoods, said staff are keeping their distance from customers and cleaning the restaurant and washing their hands constantly. Sanitizer dispensers have been installed in the kitchen and dining area and customers can request that delivery drivers leave orders at their doors. 

Staff are being reminded to stay home if they feel sick, Peters said. Santa Monica mandates 40 hours of paid sick leave for small businesses and 72 hours for large businesses.

“As a restaurant we’re always on top of sanitation and cleanliness, but obviously with the coronavirus we’re just really, really, really making sure to always go the extra step,” he said.

Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon Family restaurant group said in an email to customers Friday morning that all nine of its restaurants, including the eponymous Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry Bakery & Café, Milo & Olive and Cassia, are sanitizing bathrooms and shared surfaces in dining areas and kitchens, installing sanitation stations at entrances and bathrooms, spacing tables farther apart and removing self-serve areas. 

The restaurants are continuing to seal all takeout and delivery orders and are exploring more extensive direct-delivery options, said Erin Eastland, executive chef at Huckleberry Bakery & Café, Milo & Olive and Milo SRO.

“If you’re not comfortable eating out or having someone else prepare your food, it’s not something we can necessarily change,” she said. “But we ask if people are comfortable that they support their local businesses, because they are really in need of it right now. We do offer great comfort food — it’s something that can provide a bit of happiness in this crazy, uncertain time.”

Other restaurants are also adjusting to the new reality by ramping up delivery options.

The Gallery Food Hall on the Third Street Promenade plans to launch its own delivery service offering fare from its food-hall-within-a-food-hall, SocialEats, which includes David Chang’s Fuku fried chicken restaurant, Asian fusion noodle house Street Noods and tapas restaurant Cada Vez.

Downtown restaurant Tar & Roses said in an email to customers Thursday night that it will offer its full menu for takeout with curbside pickup, and Michael’s is launching a takeout and delivery menu next week.

Still, Eastland said she foresees restaurants suffering both depressed sales and disrupted supply chains because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said she might have to cut down on non-essential supplies and adjust operations to get through the next several weeks.

“There are things we can do to tweak the numbers a little bit to get through stuff like this without it affecting food quality or the lives of the employees who are relying on us,” she said.

Eastland said residents can also support local businesses by purchasing gift cards to use after the coronavirus pandemic, which will allow them to continue paying employees during the slowdown.

“Ultimately, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of fallout from this, so it’s important that the community supports small businesses during this time if we want to see these places continue to operate once we get through this,” she said.

Peters said although Dagwoods has not yet seen a dip in delivery orders, he is terrified of what will happen if a mandated quarantine similar to the lockdown in Italy is put in place.

“For a small business, even shutting down for a couple of days is really difficult,” he said.

But if the government enforces more stringent social distancing measures or one of the restaurant’s employees contracted coronavirus, Dagwoods would close immediately to prevent the virus from spreading, Peters said. 

“If any of our employees did actually get sick, it would be hard to pinpoint where or when they contracted the virus and whether other staff had been exposed to it,” he said. “The responsible thing to do would be to shut down.”

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